In this March 4, 2018 file photo, Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie Bezos arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California. (EVAN AGOSTINI / INVISION / AP)
SEATTLE — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are divorcing, ending a 25-year marriage that played a role in the creation of an e-commerce company that made Bezos one of the world's wealthiest people.
The decision to divorce comes after a trial separation, according to a statement posted Wednesday on Jeff Bezos' Twitter account. He and his wife both signed the announcement, which ended with a vow to remain "cherished friends."
"If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again," the couple said.
Left unanswered was one of the biggest sticking points in any divorce: How the assets amassed during the marriage will be divided.
And there may never have been more money than in this case.
Jeff Bezos is ranked at the top of most lists of the world's wealthiest people, and his fortune currently hovers around US$137 billion
Jeff Bezos is ranked at the top of most lists of the world's wealthiest people, and his fortune currently hovers around US$137 billion, according to estimates by both Forbes and Bloomberg. Virtually all of that is tied up in the nearly 79 million shares of Amazon stock (currently worth about US$130 billion) that Bezos owns, translating into a 16 percent stake in the Seattle company. Bezos, 54, also owns rocket ship maker Blue Origin and The Washington Post, which he bought for US$250 million in 2013.
Because the pair were married before Amazon was founded, it's likely that MacKenzie Bezos, a 48-year-old novelist, holds a large claim to that fortune, though details hinge on where the couple files for divorce and if they had a prenuptial agreement.
King County, where their home is located, confirmed on Twitter Wednesday that the Bezoses had not filed for divorce in court. The couple own a home in a wealthy Seattle suburb within the county. Jeff Bezos also bought a mansion in a swanky Washington DC neighborhood last year for US$23 million. The Bezoses have four children.
"The property acquired during the marriage is common property," said Jennifer Payseno, a family lawyer at the firm McKinley Irvin in Seattle. That includes stock ownership, although Amazon has not filed any regulatory documents to suggest Bezos' stake in the company has changed. Amazon didn't respond to inquiries about how the divorce may affect that stake.
The Bezoses will almost certainly settle the divorce outside of court, if they haven't already, said Jacqueline Newman, a Manhattan divorce lawyer and managing partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd.
"For the most part, they're going to want to keep things private and quiet," she said. "Especially in the case of a public company, they're not going to want information to leak because it could ultimately affect stock prices."
Amazon's stock edged up US$2.84 Wednesday to close at US$1,659.42. That left Amazon with a market value of US$811 billion, more than any other publicly traded company in the U.S.
The amicable tenor of the Bezoses' divorce announcement makes it highly likely that the couple already has reached an agreement on how to divide their assets, Payseno said.
Jeff Bezos' tremendous wealth has magnified the focus on him, although his divorce seems unlikely to enthrall the public like high-profile breakups involving movie stars such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Or even those of other billionaires, such as Donald Trump's tabloid-fodder split with his first wife Ivana in the early 1990s, long before he was elected president.
But the Bezos divorce seems likely to attract more attention than when Google co-founder Sergey Brin — currently worth US$49 billion — divorced his former wife Anne in 2015.
Amazon's origins trace back to a road trip that the Bezoses took together not long after they met in New York while working at hedge fund DE Shaw. They got married just six months after they began dating, according to Bezos.
Not long after that, Jeff Bezos quit his job at Shaw and started an online bookstore. While his wife did the cross-country driving, Bezos wrote a business plan on the way to Seattle — chosen for its abundance of tech talent. By July 1995, Amazon was operating out of a garage, with MacKenzie Bezos lending a hand, according to a review she posted on Amazon in 2013 panning "The Everything Store," a book about Bezos and the company written by Brad Stone.
"I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon's history," she recalled.
Amazon has since evolved from an upstart website selling books to an e-commerce goliath that sells virtually all imaginable merchandise and runs data centers that power many other digital services such as Netflix. It also has become a leader in intelligent voice-activated speakers with its Echo products, which are emerging as command centers for internet-connected homes — and a gateway to buying more stuff from Amazon.
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