Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is one of the most powerful figures in tech, with a net worth of roughly $104.4 billion
Today, his “Everything Store” sells more than $136 billion worth of goods a year.
Here’s how the former hedge funder got his start and became one of the world’s richest people.
Jeff Bezos’ mom, Jackie, was a teenager when she had him in January 1964. She had recently married Cuban immigrant Mike Bezos, who adopted Jeff. Jeff didn’t learn that Mike 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’ father for Stone’s book “The Everything Store,” Bezos’ dad had no idea who his son had become.
Bezos showed signs of brilliance from an early age. When he was a toddler, he took apart his crib with a screwdriver, because he wanted to sleep in a real bed.
From ages 4 to 16, Bezos spent summers on his grandparents’ ranch in Texas, doing things like repairing windmills and castrating bulls.
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 in reference to a line from Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
In school, Bezos told teachers “the future of mankind is not on this planet.” As a kid, he wanted to be a space entrepreneur. Now he owns a space-exploration company called Blue Origin.
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 but managed to sign up six students. The “Lord of the Rings” series made the required reading list.
Bezos eventually went to college at Princeton and majored in computer science. Upon graduation, he turned down job offers from Intel and Bell Labs to join a startup called Fitel.
After he quit Fitel, Bezos almost launched with Halsey Minor — who would later found CNET — a startup that would deliver news by fax.
Instead, he got a job at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw. He became a senior vice president after only four years.
Meanwhile, Bezos took 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.
He married MacKenzie Tuttle, a D.E. Shaw research associate, in 1993. She’s now a novelist.
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.
“When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff,” he said later. “I knew when I was 80 that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of thing just isn’t something you worry about when you’re 80 years old. At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event. When I thought about it that way…it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”
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.
Bezos started Amazon.com in a garage with a potbelly stove. He held most of his meetings at the neighborhood Barnes & Noble.
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.
Learn more about some of Amazon’s early employees here.
In the first month of its launch, Amazon sold books to people in all 50 states and in 45 different countries. And it continued to grow. Amazon went public on May 15, 1997.
When the dot-com crash came, analysts called the company “Amazon.bomb.” But it weathered the storm and ended up being one of the few startups that wasn’t wiped out by the dot-com bust.
Jeff Bezos was a demanding boss and could explode at employees. Rumor has it he hired a leadership coach to help him tone it down.
Here are some of the strategies Bezos used in building his Amazon empire.
Bezos is known for banning PowerPoint presentations at Amazon. Instead he requires his staff to turn in six-page papers 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.
What does Bezos do with all his money? In 2012, he donated $2.5 million to defend gay marriage in Washington.
Bezos has also donated $42 million and part of his land in Texas to the construction of The Clock Of The Long Now, an underground timepiece designed to work for 10,000 years.
In August 2013, Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million.
His space company Blue Origin made history last year when it became one of the first commercial companies to successfully launch a reusable rocket.
Bezos’ interest in flying has gotten him into trouble in the past. In 2003, Bezos almost died in a helicopter crash in the Texas boondocks while scouting a site for a test-launch facility for Blue Origin.
But in early 2016, he flew his personal jet to Germany to pick up and bring home the Washington Post reporter who had been detained by Iran.
Bezos is said to own a 5.35-acre estate on Seattle’s Lake Washington that includes 200 yards of shoreline.
Source: Curbed Seattle
He also bought a seven-bedroom, $24.5 million mansion in Beverly Hills in 2007. There’s a greenhouse, tennis court, pool, and guest house on the property, and it neighbors Tom Cruise’s estate.
In January 2017, Bezos bought the Textile Museum, a pair of mansions in Washington, D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood. The property sold for $23 million and is the largest in Washington.
Exactly 20 years after going public, Amazon has a market cap of $457 billion. Barclays predicted Amazon could be the first trillion-dollar company.
Source: Markets Insider