Perhaps as surprising as the news that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was getting divorced was that he was married. Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, have kept a tight lid on their private lives over 25 years of marriage.
That was then: Although the couple’s mutually tweeted divorce announcement was amicable, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are now prime headline fodder. What will a split of Jeff Bezos’ estimated $139 billion fortune mean for Amazon? Or his status as the world’s richest man? And will his sexting skills improve?
But the week’s biggest Bezos headline may have been: Who is MacKenzie Bezos? The woman who may soon be richer than Oprah and the Queen of England combined has kept a much lower profile than most partners of celebrity CEOs, while simultaneously building one of the more substantive résumés.
1. MacKenzie and Jeff Bezos worked and lived in NYC
Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Tuttle met at the newish NYC hedge fund D.E. Shaw in 1992, when he hired her to work as a research analyst. Tuttle had just graduated from Princeton, where Bezos had graduated six years earlier.
2. She asked him out
According to CNBC, the pair ended up with offices next to each other, and MacKenzie asked Jeff out for lunch, where they hit it off. After three months of dating, they were engaged; three months later, they married and lived together on the Upper West Side.
3. She’s been with Amazon since before the beginning
Within a year of their marriage, Jeff convinced MacKenzie to move to Seattle. With MacKenzie literally behind the wheel, Jeff wrote Amazon’s business plan on the cross-country trip. He founded the company in a rented garage in October 1994. MacKenzie wrote checks and helped with bookkeeping; in 1999, Wired reported that she helped negotiate Amazon’s first freight contracts. As the company grew, she stepped back from day-to-day dealings; the couple ultimately had four children.
4. MacKenzie Bezos is an American Book Award-winning novelist
At Princeton, MacKenzie studied fiction writing with Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison (“Beloved”), who told Vogue that MacKenzie was “one of the best students I’ve ever had in my creative-writing classes.” MacKenzie has published two novels, 2005’s “The Testing of Luther Albright,” which won the prestigious American Book Award, and 2013’s “Traps.” The New York Times called “Luther Albright” a “quietly absorbing first novel” about “an emotionally repressed husband and father.” “Traps” is about a reclusive actress who comes out of hiding to confront her father, who sold her out to the paparazzi.
5. She defended Jeff Bezos on Amazon
In 2013, MacKenzie left a one-star review on Amazon for an investigative book about Jeff Bezos and the company, which she considered unfair. She wrote: “I worked for Jeff at D. E. Shaw, 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. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.”
6. She could soon be richer than Oprah and Queen Elizabeth
A 50-50 split of Jeff Bezos’s Amazon fortune (which Washington State mandates for divorces, as a community-property state) would give MacKenzie a personal fortune of $69.5 billion, reports CBS Marketwatch — $7.4 million for every day of their marriage. It would make her 26 times wealthier than Oprah, 100 times wealthier than the Queen of England, and far richer than the current world’s wealthiest woman, Walmart heir Alice Walton, who has a net worth of $46 billion.
7. MacKenzie could end up with major clout at Amazon …
Jeff Bezos currently owns 18 percent of Amazon shares, the largest stake. “The divorce could drastically reduce Jeff Bezos’ stake in Amazon and open the door for his wife to become one of its largest shareholders, with new leverage at the company, according to divorce lawyers and corporate governance experts,” CNNMoney reported this week.
8. … but experts don’t predict a sea change in Amazon’s control
An NYC matrimonial lawyer who works with high-income clients told Vice that the divorce will probably be settled privately, and she doesn’t foresee MacKenzie challenging Jeff’s control of Amazon by demanding 50 percent of his stock. “You don’t transfer enough to the spouse to make it so they can’t be the major decision maker,” said Jacqueline Newman. “Say Bezos has 1,000 shares, and he has to maintain 800 shares in order to be the highest stockholder in the company. So if she’s supposed to get 500, only 200 would get transferred, and the extra 300 that would make that 500 complete will stay with Bezos. His wife might get the dividends from it, and if there’s a liquidity event, she might get bought out. But they won’t do an actual transfer because you want to make sure that he maintains the major portion of shares.”