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Jeff Bezos began his career as a hedge-funder in New York before leaving to start Amazon.
Amazon struggled to turn a profit at first, but these days, it's worth $1.7 trillion. Its share price has hit new highs during the pandemic.
Along the way, Bezos has faced antitrust scrutiny, weathered scandals, traveled to space, and become one of the world's richest people.
Jeff Bezos' mom, Jackie, was a teenager when she had him on January 12, 1964. She had recently married Cuban immigrant Miguel Bezos, who adopted Jeff. Jeff didn't learn that Miguel wasn't his real father until he was 10, but says he was more fazed about learning he needed to get glasses than he was about the news.
When Bezos was 4, his mother told his biological father, who previously had worked as a circus performer, to stay out of their lives. When Brad Stone interviewed Bezos' biological father for Stone's book "The Everything Store," Bezos' dad had no idea who his son had become.
His grandfather, Preston Gise, was a huge inspiration for Bezos and helped kindle his passion for intellectual pursuits. At a commencement address in 2010, Bezos said Gise taught him "it's harder to be kind than clever."
Bezos fell in love with reruns of the original "Star Trek" and became a fan of later versions too. Early on, he considered naming Amazon MakeItSo.com, a reference to a line from Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
After spending a miserable summer working at McDonald's as a teen, Bezos, together with his girlfriend, started the Dream Institute, a 10-day summer camp for kids. They charged $600 a kid and managed to sign up six students. The "Lord of the Rings" series made the required reading list.
Meanwhile, Bezos was taking ballroom dancing classes as part of a scheme to increase his "women flow." Just as Wall Streeters have a process for increasing their "deal flow," Bezos thought analytically about meeting women.
In 1994, Bezos read that the web had grown 2,300% in one year. This number astounded him, and he decided he needed to find some way to take advantage of its rapid growth. He made a list of 20 possible products to sell online and decided books were the best option.
Bezos decided to leave D.E. Shaw even though he had a great job. His boss at the firm, David E. Shaw, tried to persuade Bezos to stay. But Bezos was already determined to start his own company — he felt he'd rather try and fail at a startup than never try at all.
And so Amazon was born. MacKenzie and Jeff flew to Texas to borrow a car from his father, and then they drove to Seattle. Bezos was making revenue projections in the passenger seat the whole way, though the couple did stop to watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.
In the early days, a bell would ring in the office every time someone made a purchase, and everyone would gather around to see whether anyone knew the customer. It took only a few weeks before it was ringing so often they had to make it stop.
Bezos is known for banning PowerPoint presentations at Amazon. Instead, he requires his staff to turn in papers of a specific length on their proposals to encourage critical thinking over simplistic bullet points.
Bezos is also known for creating a frugal company culture that doesn't offer perks like free food or massages.
In 1998, Bezos became an early investor in Google. He invested $250,000, which was worth about 3.3 million shares when the company went public in 2004. Those would be worth billions today (Bezos hasn't said whether he kept any of his stock after the initial public offering).
What does Bezos do with all his money? In 2012, he donated $2.5 million to defend gay marriage in Washington. More recently, he's pledged $10 billion to fight climate change, donated $200 million to the Smithsonian, and gave $100 million each to the Obama Foundation, chef Jose Andres, and activist Van Jones.
In January 2017, Bezos purchased the Textile Museum, a pair of mansions in Washington, DC's Kalorama neighborhood. The property sold for $23 million and is the largest in Washington. Bezos' renovation plans for the house cost $12 million.
Bezos also owns five apartments at 212 Fifth Avenue in New York City. His most recent purchase in the building was last August, when he paid a reported $23 million for a four-bedroom unit, bringing his total real estate holdings in the building to $119 million.
In February 2020, Bezos became the new owner of the Warner estate, a sprawling compound in Beverly Hills, California, that he reportedly purchased for $165 million. A few months later, Bezos added to the compound with an adjacent house worth $10 million.
In October 2021, Bezos reportedly added to his real estate portfolio once again with a new home in Hawaii. The home is located in an isolated area on Maui's south shore and is near lava fields, Pacific Business News reported.
In August 2017, Amazon officially acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. The Amazon influence became immediately clear: Customers who are Amazon Prime subscribers can get 10% of sale prices, and you'll see some Amazon branded items offered in stores, including tech products like the popular Amazon Echo line.
In January 2019, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced they were divorcing. "As our family and close friends know, after a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends," the couple wrote in the statement. "If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again."
Shortly after the Bezoses announced their divorce, news broke that Bezos was dating TV host and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez. At the time, the National Enquirer said it had obtained texts and explicit photos the couple had sent to each other.
Bezos immediately launched an investigation into who had leaked his personal messages. Soon after, he dropped a bombshell of his own: an explosive blog post accusing National Enquirer publisher AMI of trying to blackmail him. "Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I've decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten," Bezos wrote.
During the coronavirus outbreak, Amazon saw a surge in demand as more people were forced to shop online. At the same time, the company faced criticism over its treatment of workers and its attention to health and safety at its fulfillment centers nationwide.
Amazon delivery drivers, who are contractors employed by third-party companies, have also spoken out about the demands of their jobs. Drivers say Amazon's emphasis on metrics has forced them to use their delivery vans as a bathroom or sacrifice safety to deliver packages on time.
The company is also facing antitrust concerns, particularly over the company's treatment of third-party sellers on its platform. Bezos and other major tech CEOs were called to testify before Congress in July 2020.
After the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed in 2020, Bezos was outspoken about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, publicly shaming customers who sent racist emails about his and Amazon's support. In an Instagram post, he posted a screenshot of a customer email and described the man as "the kind of customer I'm happy to lose."
On February 2, 2021, Bezos announced he would step down as Amazon's CEO and transition to executive chairman after 27 years at the helm. Bezos said that he planned to spend more time on philanthropy — including the Bezos Earth Fund and his Day 1 Fund — as well as his two other major endeavors: The Washington Post and his rocket company, Blue Origin.
Bezos stepped down in July and embarked on his next adventure: On July 20, he took an 11-minute voyage to the edge of space aboard a Blue Origin spacecraft. He was accompanied by his brother, Mark; a Dutch teenager named Oliver Daemen; and Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator who trained to go to space in the '60s but was ultimately denied the opportunity because she was a woman.