TOM LEONARD: Why HAS the Amazon king Jeff Bezos decided to spend more time with his $197bn?

 The scene was Madonna’s glittering post-Oscars party last year in Los Angeles. The champagne was flowing and the paparazzi snapping as Hollywood’s biggest stars celebrated their success.

Amid the revellers could be seen a somewhat diffident-looking man, standing rather awkwardly with a curvy, dark-haired woman, his bald head glistening under the hot lights.

He was, as the guests all surely knew, Jeff Bezos, at that point the richest man in the world, the all-conquering king of Amazon keen to forge a new social circle among the biggest names in Tinseltown.

Jeff Bezos, pictured with his helicopter pilot wife Lauren Sanchez, has announced he is stepping down as chief executive of Amazon, 26 years after setting it up as an online book retailer based in his Seattle garage

Jeff Bezos, pictured with his helicopter pilot wife Lauren Sanchez, has announced he is stepping down as chief executive of Amazon, 26 years after setting it up as an online book retailer based in his Seattle garage 

He’s certainly taken on many of the trappings of stardom, albeit at multi-billionaire level, indulging his riches as much as any celebrity. Indeed, his property portfolio now includes a nine-acre Beverly Hills estate built by Hollywood mogul Jack Warner, for which he paid a record $165 million (£125 million).


He also forked out $90 million for another plot in Los Angeles and, in 2019, spent $80 million buying three interconnected apartments — some 17,000 sq ft of space — in New York.

He also owns Washington DC’s largest private home; a former museum; a property in Miami; a huge estate near Seattle; and a 300,000-acre ranch in Texas. 

He flits between them in a $50 million Gulfstream jet.

Clearly, then, a man who loves the trappings of mega-wealth. 

Yet ask anyone who has worked with Bezos and they’re more likely to tell you he’s a ferociously driven, parsimonious, socially awkward man entirely obsessed with the company he founded in 1994.

Bezos’s journey from grey businessman to glitzy celebrity continued this week when, to the astonishment of many, he announced he was stepping down as chief executive of Amazon, now worth $1.7 trillion.

Bezos is expected to spend time on his other passions, which include two charitable organisations, the Washington Post newspaper and, of couse, his space exploration company, Blue Origin

Bezos is expected to spend time on his other passions, which include two charitable organisations, the Washington Post newspaper and, of couse, his space exploration company, Blue Origin

Twenty six years after he started an online bookseller named after a South American river in his Seattle garage, the Star Trek fanatic is off to spend more time with his spaceships, with saving the planet and with his frankly obscene fortune. And, let’s not forget, with his helicopter-flying girlfriend Lauren Sanchez.

In case anyone was wondering whether he’d been pushed out, he timed his announcement with Amazon reporting its latest jaw-dropping financial results.

Predictably, lockdown has been kind to a company that delivers products to people at home, and Amazon has just posted a record $125.6 billion in sales for the fourth quarter.

‘As much as I still tap dance into the office, I’m excited about this transition,’ the 57-year-old told his 1.3 million-strong workforce in an email.

The multi-billionaire's extensive property portfolio includes Washington's largest private home - a former textile museum in Kalorama Heights - he also owns a nine-acre Beverly Hills estate built by Hollywood mogul Jack Warner, for which he paid a record $165million (£125million)

The multi-billionaire's extensive property portfolio includes Washington's largest private home - a former textile museum in Kalorama Heights - he also owns a nine-acre Beverly Hills estate built by Hollywood mogul Jack Warner, for which he paid a record $165million (£125million)

He will remain executive chairman as his successor, Andy Jassy, the 53-year-old chief executive of Amazon’s cloud computing division, takes over day-to-day running of the company.

While Amazon was quick to reassure the markets that Bezos would remain ‘very involved’, he said he wanted to spend more time with his other ‘passions’ — two charitable organisations, the Washington Post newspaper and his space exploration company, Blue Origin.

Financial experts said they were stunned by the announcement, never envisaging how a man who micro-managed his empire with such obsessive focus would willingly give up the reins.

However, anyone who’s watched the events in his private life unfolding recently would have been less surprised.

You didn’t need to scrutinise his dramatic wardrobe transformation or read the torrid details of his affair with Lauren, let alone reports that he barely ever comes into the office any more, to see this was a man preparing for the next planet-shaking stage in life.


Bezos is now estimated by Bloomberg to be worth $197 billion — around $11 billion behind Tesla electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk. He certainly didn’t get there without making waves. Bezos has left many of us gasping at the enormity of his achievement as a businessman, but also grinding our teeth in fury at how he did it.

Like Main Street in the U.S., Britain’s High Street has had its heart torn out by internet retailers, particularly Amazon, whose relentless price-cutting drove many to the wall while fuelling accusations of unfair business practices.

He’s a man of deep contradictions — a smiling nerd king with a ferocious temper, who says he cares passionately about the customer but treats his own workforce notoriously badly; a financial genius who claims he cares passionately about the planet but for years gave virtually nothing to charity.

A child prodigy — he turned his cot into a bed when he was three —Bezos went to work for a New York hedge fund before moving west with wife MacKenzie and, working out its business plan as he drove, establishing Amazon in 1994.

Undercutting the competition was always a central tenet of his strategy, and for years he ignored Wall Street’s demands for higher profits as he reinvested everything in building his business. 

He gradually expanded Amazon’s share of the market to the point where many say it’s becoming a virtual monopoly.

But his track record with his own workers is not so easy to celebrate. Like many at the top of Silicon Valley, Bezos is not big on human empathy. 

This man who, aged ten, reduced his grandmother to tears by calculating how many years she had lost by smoking, has been named the world’s worst employer by trade unions (and given the hundreds of thousands he employs, that is a cause for concern).

Bezos owns two Gulfstream jets and has used them in recent years to jet off to Wimbldedo, where he sat behind the royal family and the Taj Mahal. He also owns a super-yacht

Bezos owns two Gulfstream jets and has used them in recent years to jet off to Wimbldedo, where he sat behind the royal family and the Taj Mahal. He also owns a super-yacht

Bezos has described the all-pervading Amazon culture that he’s created as ‘friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove we’ll settle for intense’.

In May, an Amazon vice-president resigned in protest at its sacking of workers who complained about safety at its mega-warehouses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some say Bezos is making his exit just at the right time, as regulators and politicians in both the U.S. and Europe prepare to sink their teeth into Amazon and other technology giants over complaints about anti-competitive behaviour and their astonishing ability to avoid paying taxes.

Meanwhile, world domination can’t be much fun if you haven’t the time to enjoy it, and even the thrill of making headlines — such as one about Bezos becoming nearly $8 billion richer in a single day — must eventually pale.

Insiders have said he’s long harboured a craving for the high life — a Hollywood executive described how Bezos was so keen on turning up to industry parties, he’d ‘go to the opening of an envelope’.

In January 2019, Bezos was revealed to be having an affair with Lauren, a neighbour and wife of a friend and business partner, on the same day he announced his divorce, after 25 years, from wife MacKenzie.

The shocking revelations, including rumours of ‘erotic selfies’ they’d shared and excruciating emails in which he described the glamorous Sanchez — who is a TV presenter — as ‘alive girl’, led to a record divorce settlement with MacKenzie of at least $35 billion (£27 billion at the time), which incredibly still left Bezos as the world’s richest man at the time.

It was the first personal scandal to engulf him. The reports of wild and almost reckless behaviour related to his affair surprised insiders, who’d always known him to be monastically self-disciplined and focused on his business.

Since then, he’s continued in the same vein, as the couple indulged in a breakneck, planet-spanning romance that took them to Wimbledon (where they sat behind members of the Royal Family), the Taj Mahal and a huge yacht off St Barts.

Bezos is now estimated by Bloomberg to be worth $197billion ¿ $11billion behind Tesla electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk

Bezos is now estimated by Bloomberg to be worth $197billion — $11billion behind Tesla electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk

Even before he traded in his novelist wife for the buxom lover who favours low-cut dresses and tight leather trousers, Bezos had spruced up his own look, not only throwing out the once-habitual cargo trousers for Prada jeans, tight black polo shirts and bomber jackets, but also developing a bulging, gym-sculpted physique.

Talk of a mid-life crisis was further fuelled by the new social circles in which he mixes.

As well as Madonna’s Oscars after-party, he has been rubbing shoulders with a Hollywood crowd that ranges from the music and film magnate David Geffen and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg to movie stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Bezos and Ms Sanchez were even given front-row seats at fashion designer Tom Ford’s LA show last year, next to Vogue queen Anna Wintour. 

And in December 2019, Bezos threw a lavish birthday party for Ms Sanchez where guests included singer Katy Perry, and actors Orlando Bloom and Timothee Chalamet.

However, pottering around the Caribbean on superyachts and partying with the celebrity set surely aren’t going to satisfy a workaholic like Bezos for long.

A libertarian who has resisted moves to increase taxes on the very rich, he has enjoyed a reputation as one of the meanest billionaires when it comes to charitable giving. (Friends blame his ‘empathy gap’, saying he feels little responsibility to others.)

Possibly shamed by his far more generous ex-wife, he has shown signs of improvement. Last year, Bezos made the single largest charitable contribution of 2020 in the form of a $10 billion gift to launch his Bezos Earth Fund to fight climate change. In 2018, he and MacKenzie gave $2 billion to Day One Fund, a charity for homelessness and education.

Bezos is expected to turn his gimlet gaze most of all towards space. He has long said that his work on space exploration is his priority, spending $1 billion a year and one day a week on his rocket company, Blue Origin — though he risks being overtaken in this new space race by his rival Musk.

Bezos has talked of space investment as a moral duty — he believes Earth’s resources will eventually run out and has grandiose plans for colonising space in miles-long floating cylindrical tubes.

After he told his grandmother how many years smoking had lost her, his grandfather took the young Bezos aside and told him that he’d one day work out that ‘it’s harder to be kind than clever’.

We can only hope he will soon be blazing a trail as a philanthropist and saviour of humanity that’s every bit as fruitful as his time at Amazon.

TOM LEONARD: Why HAS the Amazon king Jeff Bezos decided to spend more time with his $197bn? TOM LEONARD: Why HAS the Amazon king Jeff Bezos decided to spend more time with his $197bn? Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 06:26 Rating: 5

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