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Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon CEO. Here’s how he became the world’s richest person

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.David Ryder/Getty Images

  • After 27 years, Jeff Bezos announced he is stepping down as CEO of Amazon on Tuesday.
  • Bezos launched Amazon in 1995. The company has since grown to one of the most valuable, powerful companies on the planet with a market value of $1.56 trillion. 
  • Bezos has gone from a New York hedge-funder to the richest man in the world, but in the process, he’s weathered a high-profile divorce and hacking scandal, faced antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers, and everything in between. 
  • These days, Bezos is focused on making Amazon more climate-friendly and growing his personal real estate empire.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After 27 years in charge, Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon CEO later this year.  Bezos will be replaced by Andy Jassy, the current CEO of AWS.

Bezos, who incorporated the company in 1994, has had a tumultuous 18 months, beginning with a divorce and a leak of his personal messages to the National Enquirer. 

But it hasn’t been all bad for Bezos: he’s jetted across the globe with his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, he’s attended the exclusive Met Gala, and, last year, he celebrated another successful Prime Day with Katy Perry, Lil Nas X, and 45,000 Amazon employees. Over the last several months, Amazon has seen a surge in demand as the coronavirus outbreak has forced people to shop online more than ever. And as Amazon’s stock has hit new highs, Bezos’ net worth has jumped as well: These days, he’s worth $183 billion, according to Bloomberg.https://ad67aae9af1f092dbef78193a3a7c51f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

That success hasn’t come overnight, however. Bezos began his career in the hedge fund world in the ’90s, then left a cushy job to launch his own startup. 

Here’s how Bezos got his start, and built one of the largest tech companies in the world.

Allana Akhtar contributed to an earlier version of this story.

Jeff Bezos’ mom, Jackie, was a teenager when she had him in January 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.

Jeff Bezos with his father, Miguel Bezos.Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Statue Of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

Source: Wired

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.

Source: The Everything Store

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.

Fabian Strauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

Source: The Everything Store

From ages 4 to 16, Bezos spent summers on his grandparents’ ranch in Texas, doing things like repairing windmills and castrating bulls.

Source: The Everything Store

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.”

Source: Business Insider

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.

Paramount Pictures

Source: The Everything Store

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.

Source: Wired

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.

Kim Kulish/Getty images

Source: Wired

Bezos eventually went to college at Princeton University and majored in computer science. Upon graduation, he turned down job offers from Intel and Bell Labs to join a startup called Fitel.

Princeton University.John Greim / Getty Images

Source: The Everything Store

After he quit Fitel, Bezos considered partnering with Halsey Minor – who would later found CNET – to launch a startup that would deliver news by fax.

Source: Wired

Instead, he got a job at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw. He became a senior vice president after only four years.

Source: The Everything Store

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.

Source: The Everything Store

He married MacKenzie Tuttle, a D.E. Shaw research associate, in 1993. She’s now a novelist. The couple had four kids together.

Source: The Everything Store

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.

Paul Falardeau

Source: The Everything Store

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.

“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,” he added. “When I thought about it that way … it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”

Source: Wired

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.

Source: The Everything Store

Bezos started Amazon.com in a garage with a potbelly stove. He held most of his meetings at the neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

Source: Wired

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.

Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

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.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Amazon has now gone beyond selling books to offering almost everything you can imagine, including appliances, clothing, and even cloud computing services.

In the early days, 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 papers of a specific length on their proposals to encourage critical thinking over simplistic bullet points.

Source: The Everything Store

Bezos is also known for creating a frugal company culture that doesn’t offer perks like free food or massages.

An Amazon office.Business Insider

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).

Source: All Things D

What does Bezos do with all his money? In 2012, he donated $2.5 million to defend gay marriage in Washington.

Source: The Washington Post

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.

The Long Now Foundation / Facebook

Source: Business Insider

In August 2013, Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Source: The Washington Post

His space company Blue Origin made history in 2015 when it became one of the first commercial companies to successfully launch a reusable rocket.

Blue Origin

Source: Business Insider

Bezos’ interest in flying has gotten him into trouble in the past. In 2003, Bezos almost died in a helicopter crash in Texas while scouting a site for a test-launch facility for Blue Origin.

This isn’t Bezos’ helicopter.NTSB

Source: CNN

But in early 2016, he flew his personal jet to Germany to pick up and bring home Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who had been detained by Iran.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider

Bezos is said to own an estate on Seattle’s Lake Washington that includes a long line of shoreline.

Source: Curbed Seattle

He 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 neighbours Tom Cruise’s estate.

Bezos’ house in Beverly Hills.Dream Homes Magazine

Source: Forbes

In January 2017, Bezos purchased 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. He’s currently spending $12 million to renovate the place.

AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikimedia Commons

Source: The Washington Post, Business Insider

Here’s another look at the mansions.

Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Bezos also owns four apartments at 212 Fifth Avenue in New York City. His most recent purchase in the building was last April, when he paid a reported $16 million for a three-bedroom unit, bringing his total real estate holdings in the building to nearly $100 million.

Source: Forbes,Business Insider

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.

Los Angeles County/Pictometry

Source: Business Insider

Now, more than 20 years after going public, Amazon has a market cap of over $1.56 trillion.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.Alex Wong/Getty Images

Source: Markets Insider

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, including tech products like the popular Amazon Echo line.

Kate Taylor/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

In July 2017, Bezos became the world’s richest person for the first time, surpassing Microsoft founder Bill Gates. At the time, his net worth was more than $90 billion.

Getty Images

Despite his high net worth, Bezos doesn’t actually take home a high salary, comparatively speaking: His annual salary comes out to $81,840, according to Bloomberg.

Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, and John Elkann, chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, walk together during the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 12, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In January 2019, Bezos and his wife of 25 years, novelist MacKenzie Bezos, 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.”

Dia Dipasupil / Staffhttps://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1083004911380393985&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.businessinsider.com%2Famazon-ceo-jeff-bezos-richest-man-world-career-life-story-2017-7&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px

Shortly after the Bezoses announced their divorce last January, news broke that Bezos was dating TV host and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez.

Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

At the time, the National Enquirer said it had conducted a four-month investigation into Bezos and Sanchez’s relationship and had obtained texts and explicit photos the couple had sent to each other.

Almost immediately, questions arose about the Enquirer’s motives for investigating Bezos and Sanchez and the tabloid’s connection to President Trump — Bezos immediately launched an investigation into who had leaked his personal messages.

Then, in February, Bezos dropped a bombshell of his own: an explosive blog post titled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker,” in which he accused Pecker and AMI of trying to blackmail him. As a result, Bezos published the emails he’d received from AMI.

“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.

The Bezoses announced on Twitter they had finalized the term of their divorce in April 2019. MacKenzie retained more than $35 billion in Amazon stock, making her one of the world’s richest women.

Prince Chukwudi Timothy Samuel

Prince Chukwudi Timothy Samuel is the Chairman / CEO, MicMiraSteph Communications and Chief Media Director, Apex Reporters

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