January 12, 1964
- Known For:
Founder of Amazon
About Jeff Bezos
Jeffrey Preston Bezos, whose birth name is Jeffrey Jorgenson, was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Jacklyn and Theodore Jorgenson. His parents were 17 and 19 years old at the time of his birth. The Jorgensons divorced in 1965, and Bezos has not had contact with his birth father since. In 1968, Jacklyn married Cuban immigrant Mike Bezos who adopted four-year-old Jeffrey. Jacklyn and Mike legally changed Jeffrey’s last name to Bezos.
The Bezos family moved to Houston, Texas, when Mike got an engineering job with Exxon. The family soon had two more kids, Christina and Mark.
Bezos spent many childhood summers with his grandfather at a ranch in Cotulla, Texas. He showed an interest in science and technology from an early age, converting his parents’ garage into a laboratory and creating an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his room.
When Bezos was a teenager, his family moved to Miami, Florida, where he attended Miami Palmetto High School and graduated as valedictorian. While in high school, he worked a summer job at McDonald’s. After high school graduation, Bezos moved to New Jersey to attend Princeton, where he studied computer science and engineering. He graduated summa cum laude in 1986.
Bezos met his future wife, MacKenzie Scott Tuttle, in 1992, and the two were married a year later. They have four children together. In 2019, Bezos and his wife announced they were divorcing after a period of separation. The same day as the divorce announcement, the news broke that Bezos had been involved in a relationship with former newscaster, Lauren Sanchez. Sanchez and Bezos are still in a relationship as of 2023.
Bezos’ first job after college was working as a software engineer at fintech startup, Fitel. He worked at Fitel for two years, advancing to become head of development and director of customer service. He left Fitel in 1988 and joined Bankers Trust, where he remained for two years, advancing to the position of vice president.
After leaving Bankers Trust, Bezos took a job at the newly formed hedge fund D.E. Shaw and remained there until 1994. While at D.E. Shaw, Bezos again advanced to the role of vice president and was responsible for researching internet-focused business opportunities. While doing so, he realized he wanted to create his own internet-based business.
Bezos founded Amazon in 1995 after leaving his job at D.E. Shaw. He decided to start an online bookstore because he believed there was potential for room to grow in the e-commerce space. He reached out to family members for money to get the business started. His parents invested $275,573, allowing the company to get off the ground.
After moving to Seattle, Bezos began the company out of his garage. His wife, MacKenzie, was heavily involved in operations. Within one month of launching, Amazon sold books to people in every state and 45 countries. Within two months, sales topped $20,000 per week.
Amazon went public in 1997 with a stock price of $18 per share, raising $54 million. The IPO made Bezos a millionaire. In the following years, the company’s product offerings expanded to include music, video, and consumer goods. Amazon’s value grew quickly, and Bezos became a billionaire by 1998.
Amazon often sells goods and services below cost to take market share. In 2022, Amazon held the largest market share of the online retail industry at 37.8%. Walmart, the second-place competitor, held just 6.3% of the market share.
Though Amazon started out as a disruptor in the e-commerce industry, it has grown to have an influence in nearly every industry, including healthcare, advertising, grocery, banking, and television. Amazon has also become the world’s biggest provider of cloud-based computing.
Criticisms of Amazon
Bezos has frequently come under fire for controversial business practices at Amazon. Many have criticized Amazon’s treatment of low-level employees, such as warehouse workers and drivers, claiming the working conditions are inhumane and wages are too low.
In 2015, Bezos responded to criticism of Amazon’s work conditions by urging any employees who had experienced such conditions to contact him directly. He said “I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market . . . Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”
In 2019, in response to criticism of Amazon’s low wages for blue-collar workers, Bezos announced a $15 minimum wage at the company.
Despite efforts to improve company culture, in 2022, members of the Amazon Labor Union told People’s World in an interview that warehouse conditions included backbreaking work, hazardous work environments, long hours (such as 60-hour work weeks), and mandatory overtime.
In 2000, Bezos founded the spaceflight company Blue Origin. Bezos says his top goals for Blue Origin are to preserve Earth’s natural resources and ultimately allow humans to colonize space.
In 2015, Blue Origin successfully landed a reusable rocket vertically, an accomplishment that could significantly reduce the costs of space travel. The rocket, called New Shepard, completed its first flight with passengers in 2021. The passengers included Jeff Bezos and three others. New Shepard has since completed five other flights with passengers.
Other Business Ventures
In 2013, Bezos purchased Washington D.C.-based newspaper, The Washington Post, for $250 million. Though the company was not profitable at the time, Bezos believed it was an important institution. He said, “It is the newspaper in the capital city of the most important country in the world. The Washington Post has an incredibly important role to play in this democracy. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”
Bezos believed he could turn the company around and produce a profit. Due to a rise in digital subscriptions, the company was able to become profitable by 2016 and remain profitable up through 2022.
In 2003, Bezos founded private venture capital firm, Bezos Expeditions. Over the years, the firm has invested in many successful startups, including Airbnb, Uber, and Workday. The firm’s investment portfolio also includes several healthcare companies, such as GRAIL, a cancer detection startup, and Unity Biotechnology, which develops therapies for age-related diseases.
Bezos co-founded Altos Labs in 2021 with Yuri Milner. The company’s mission is to explore ways to extend the human lifespan and improve health through the development of new regenerative therapies.
Bezos also participated in several philanthropic ventures. In 2018, he announced the launch of the Bezos Day One Fund, a $2 billion initiative aimed at fighting homelessness and supporting education for low-income families. In 2017, he donated $33 million to TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
In 2019, Bezos pledged to give $10 billion to the Bezos Earth Fund by 2030. The Bezos Earth Fund is a philanthropic initiative to address climate change through grants to scientists, activists, and other organizations working on environmental issues. Bezos has also been involved in various other charitable efforts, including donations to cancer research, education, and the arts.
According to Forbes, as of 2022, Bezos had donated an estimated 1.7% of his wealth, or roughly 2.1 billion. Critics have pointed out that his donations are less than other prominent billionaires. Bezos has not given as much as billionaires like Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and many others who have signed The Giving Pledge, a commitment to donate the majority of their wealth to charity. However, in 2022, he independently reported to CNN that he does plan to donate the majority of his wealth.
Jeff Bezos Today
Bezos no longer acts as CEO of Amazon after stepping down in 2021 to focus his attention on Blue Origin and his philanthropic ventures. Bezos remains the executive chairman and the largest shareholder at Amazon, so he continues to guide and support company decisions.
In 2022, Bezos held the second annual Courage and Civility Award, an award show where Bezos awards “leaders who aim high, pursue solutions with courage, and always do so with civility” with $100 million to give to charities of their choosing. Bezos named Dolly Parton the winner in 2022.
In 2022, Bezos warned the public that he believes a recession is coming. He said, “Take as much risk off the table as you can. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
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