Jeffrey Preston Bezos (born January 12, 1964) is an American technology and retail entrepreneur, investor, computer scientist, and philanthropist, best known as the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Amazon.com, the world’s largest online shopping retailer. The company began as an Internet merchant of books and expanded to a wide variety of products and services, most recently video streaming and audio streaming. Amazon.com is currently the world’s largest Internet sales company on the World Wide Web, as well as the world’s largest provider of cloud infrastructure services, which is available through its Amazon Web Services arm.
Bezos’ other diversified business interests include aerospace and newspapers. He is the founder and manufacturer of Blue Origin (founded in 2000) with test flights to space which started in 2015, and plans for commercial suborbital human spaceflight beginning in 2018. In 2013, Bezos purchased The Washington Post newspaper. A number of other business investments are managed through Bezos Expeditions.
When the financial markets opened on July 27, 2017, Bezos briefly surpassed Bill Gates to become the world’s richest person, with an estimated net worth of just over $90 billion. He lost the title later in the day when Amazon’s stock dropped, returning him to second place with a net worth just below $90 billion.
Early life and education
Bezos was born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen in 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Jacklyn (née Gise) and Ted Jorgensen. His maternal ancestors were settlers who lived in Texas, and over the generations acquired a 25,000-acre (101 km2 or 39 miles2) ranch near Cotulla. As of March 2015, Bezos was among the largest landholders in Texas.
Bezos’s maternal grandfather was Lawrence Preston Gise, was a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque. Before joining the AEC, Gise had worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that was created in 1958 as the first response by the US government to the Russian launching of Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite in 1957. Intended to be the counterbalance to military thinking in research and development, DARPA was formed, according to its official mission statement, to assure that the US maintains a lead in applying technology for military capabilities and to prevent other technological surprises from her adversaries. In 1970, DARPA’s engineers created a model for a communications network for the military that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication: ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet. Gise retired early to the ranch, where Bezos spent many summers as a youth, working with him.
Bezos’ mother Jacklyn was 17 and still in high school at the time of his birth. Her marriage to Jorgensen lasted a little more than a year. In April 1968, when Jeff was 4, she married her second husband, Miguel “Mike” Bezos, a Cuban who immigrated to the United States alone when he was 15 years old. His family was originally from Villafrechós, a little town in Valladolid, Spain. Mike Bezos worked his way through the University of New Mexico, married Jacklyn, and adopted 4-year-old Jeff Jorgensen, whose surname was then changed to Bezos. After the wedding, the family moved to Houston, Texas and Mike worked as an engineer for Exxon. Jeff attended River Oaks Elementary School in Houston from fourth to sixth grade. As a child, he spent summers working on his grandfather’s ranch in southern Texas. Bezos often displayed scientific interests and technological proficiency; he once rigged an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his room. The family moved to Miami, Florida, where he attended Miami Palmetto High School. While in high school, he attended the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida, receiving a Silver Knight Award in 1982. He was high school valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar.
In 1986, Bezos graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University with Bachelor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. While at Princeton, he was also elected to Tau Beta Pi. He served as the president of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
After graduating from Princeton, Bezos worked on Wall Street in the computer science field. He then worked on building a network for international trade for a company known as Fitel. He next worked at Bankers Trust. Later on, he worked on Internet-enabled business opportunities at the hedge fund company D. E. Shaw & Co.
Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994 after making a cross-country drive from New York to Seattle, writing up the Amazon business plan on the way. He initially set up the company in his garage. He had left his well-paying job at a New York City hedge fund after learning “about the rapid growth in Internet use,” which coincided with a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling that exempted mail order companies from collecting sales taxes in states where they lack a physical presence.
Bezos is known for his attention to business details. As described by Portfolio.com, he “is at once a happy-go-lucky mogul and a notorious micromanager an executive who wants to know about everything from contract minutiae to how he is quoted in all Amazon press releases.”
On August 15, 2015, The New York Times wrote an article entitled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” about Amazon’s business practices. Bezos responded to his employees with a Sunday memo claiming it did not represent the company he leads and challenged its depiction as “a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard,” and to contact him directly if true.
In May 2016, Bezos sold slightly more than one million shares of his holdings in the company for $671 million, making it the largest amount of money he had ever raised in a sale of his Amazon holdings. On August 4, 2016, he sold another million of his shares at a value of $756.7 million. As of June 19, 2016, Bezos owned 83.9 million shares of Amazon stock, being 16.9% of all shares outstanding, with a market value of $83.9 billion.
In 2000, Bezos founded Blue Origin, a human spaceflight startup company, partially as a result of his fascination with space travel, including an early interest in developing “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2 million or 3 million people orbiting the Earth.” The company was kept secret for a few years; it became publicly known only in 2006 when it purchased a sizable aggregation of land in west Texas for a launch and test facility. In a 2011 interview, Bezos indicated that he founded the space company to help enable “anybody to go into space” and stated that the company was committed to decreasing the cost and increasing the safety of spaceflight. “Blue Origin is one of several start-ups aiming to open up space travel to paying customers. Like Amazon, the company is secretive, but revealed that it had lost an unmanned prototype vehicle during a short-hop test flight. Although this was a setback, the announcement of the loss revealed for the first time just how far Blue Origin’s team had advanced,” he stated. Bezos said that the crash was ‘not the outcome that any of us wanted, but we’re signed up for this to be hard.'” A profile published in 2013 described a 1982 Miami Herald interview he gave after he was named high school class valedictorian. The 18-year-old Bezos “said he wanted to build space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit. ‘The whole idea is to preserve the earth’ he told the newspaper …. The goal was to be able to evacuate humans. The planet would become a park.”
In 2013, Bezos reportedly discussed commercial spaceflight opportunities and strategies with Richard Branson, multibillionaire founder of Virgin Group and chairman of Virgin Galactic.
In 2015, Bezos further discussed the motivation for his spaceflight-related business when he announced a new orbital launch vehicle under development for late-2010s first flight. He indicated that his ambitions in space are not location dependentMars, Lunar, asteroidal, etc.”we want to go everywhere, Our number-one opponent is gravity. … The vision for Blue is pretty simple. We want to see millions of people living and working in space. That’s going to take a long time. I think it’s a worthwhile goal.” In 2016, Bezos opened up the Blue rocket design and manufacturing facility to journalists for the first time, and gave extensive interviews that included an articulation of his vision for space and for Blue Origin. Bezos sees space as being “chock full of resources” and foresees a “Great Inversion” where there will emerge “space commercialization that stretches out for hundreds of years, leading to an era when millions of people would be living and working in space.” He sees both energy and heavy manufacturing occurring in space, having the effect of reduced pollution on Earth, in effect reducing the probability that something “bad happens to the Earth.” Bezos has said that he is trying to change the fundamental cost structure of accessing space.
On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a vertical landing back at the launch site in West Texas. Blue Origin is in an extensive flight test program of New Shepard which expects to begin carrying “test passengers” in 2017 and initiate commercial flights in 2018. Blue is currently building six of the vehicles to support all phases of testing and operations: no-passenger test flights, flights with test passengers, and commercial-passenger weekly operations.
In June 2016, Bezos reiterated his long term goal to see nearly all heavy-industry manufacturing factories in space as part of a wide-ranging, but rare, interview. In September 2016, he added that he hoped to colonize the solar system. Recently, Bezos also revealed that he was selling about $1 billion in Amazon stock a year to finance his Blue Origin rocket company.
The Washington Post
On August 5, 2013, Bezos announced his purchase of The Washington Post for $250 million in cash. Amazon.com was not to be involved. “This is uncharted terrain,” he told the newspaper, “and it will require experimentation.” Shortly after the announcement of intent to purchase, The Washington Post published a long-form profile of Bezos on August 10, 2013. The sale closed on October 1, 2013, and Bezos’s Nash Holdings LLC took control.
In March 2014, Bezos made his first significant change at The Washington Post and lifted the online paywall for subscribers of a number of U.S. local newspapers including The Dallas Morning News, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Bezos revealed in 2016 that he conducted no due diligence when accepting the first offer from former Washington Post owner Donald E. Graham.
He has also invested in Unity Biotechnology, a life-extension research firm hoping to slow or stop the process of aging.
Bezos makes personal investments through venture capital vehicle Bezos Expeditions and has backed companies across a wide range of industries.
Companies that have been funded at least in part by Bezos Expeditions include (this list is incomplete):
- Airbnb online home rental marketplace
- Aviary software (photo editing)
- Basecamp software (project management)
- Behance self-promotion network
- Blue Origin space travel
- Business Insider publishing
- Crowdrise for-profit charitable giving platform
- Domo software (business intelligence)
- D-Wave Systems quantum computing
- General Assembly technology education
- General Fusion sustainable energy (nuclear fusion)
- Glassybaby supports cancer patients
- Google search engine
- Juno Therapeutics cancer biopharmaceuticals
- Kongregate online games
- Linden Lab online games (Second Life)
- Lookout technology (mobile security)
- MakerBot Industries 3D printers
- MFG.com manufacturer direct marketplace
- Nextdoor localized social networking
- Pelago online games
- Powerset natural-language search engine
- Pro.com home services marketplace
- Qliance health care
- Rescale cloud computing simulations
- Rethink Robotics manufacturing robots
- Sapphire Energy sustainable energy (crude oil from algae)
- Skytap cloud computing
- Stack Exchange technology publishing
- TeachStreet search engine to find teachers
- Twitter social networking
- Uber sharing economy
- Vessel subscription video service
- Vicarious artificial intelligence
- Workday software for business
- ZocDoc software (healthcare appointments)
Nonprofit projects funded by Bezos Expeditions include:
- Bezos Center for Innovation at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry $10 million
- Recovery of two Saturn V first-stage Rocketdyne F-1 engines from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. They were positively identified as belonging to the Apollo 11 mission’s S-1C stage in July 2013.
- Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at Princeton Neuroscience Institute $15 million
- Bezos Family Foundation, an educational charity. The foundation is reported being mainly funded by Jeff’s parents from their holdings in Amazon as early investors in the enterprise.
The foundation gave $10 million in 2009 and $20 million in 2010 to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Bezos also donated $800,000 to Worldreader, founded by a former Amazon employee.
He was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 1999. In 2008, he was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s best leaders. Bezos was awarded an honorary doctorate in Science and Technology from Carnegie Mellon University in 2008. In 2011, The Economist gave Bezos and Gregg Zehr an Innovation Award for the Amazon Kindle.
In 2012, Bezos was named Businessperson of The Year by Fortune. He is also a member of the Bilderberg Group and attended the 2011 Bilderberg conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the 2013 conference in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. He was a member of the Executive Committee of The Business Council for 2011 and 2012.
According to Forbes, Bezos is listed in October 2016 as the third wealthiest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$72 billion. In 2014, he was ranked the best CEO in the world by Harvard Business Review.
He has also figured in Fortune’s list of 50 great leaders of the world for three straight years, topping the list in 2015.
In September 2016, Bezos was awarded the Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization which earned him $250,000. The prize money was donated to the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space by Bezos.
In May 2014, Bezos was named World’s Worst Boss by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), at their World Congress. In making the award, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, said “Jeff Bezos represents the inhumanity of employers who are promoting the North American corporate model.” An article in The New York Times described working for Bezos and in the offices of Amazon as a grueling and inhumane experience, with many employees regularly being terminated or quitting.
Under Bezoss direction, Amazon has been criticized as “stingy” in its corporate giving practices.
Journalist Shawn McCoy contrasted the philanthropic practices of Amazon and Bezos with the comparatively more generous Microsoft (also based near Seattle) and fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen (who, in April 2017, personally donated $30 million to help house homeless families in Seattle.) Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, has compared Bezos to Steve Jobs, who was skeptical of philanthropy and made few donations.