Will divorce split the Amazon empire?

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos © Getty images
They built their fortune together

Jeff Bezos is splitting up with his wife. But it will be business as usual for Amazon.

How many divorced people does it take to change a light bulb? As many of my contemporaries have found out the hard way, the answer is that it doesn’t matter, because the spouse (or the lawyers) ends up with the house. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, currently the richest man in the world with an estimated $137bn fortune, is unlikely to be left homeless as a result of his divorce.

He could, however, still face a hefty bill. Depending on where the divorce takes place, Bezos’s wife could be entitled to half the couple’s wealth, as Laura Stevens and Sara Randazzo point out in The Wall Street Journal.

The split could also have implications for the ownership structure of Amazon. Mr Bezos is the largest shareholder of the tech giant, which means that post-divorce Mrs Bezos “could influence shareholder votes on resolutions and press for changes at the company”, say Stevens and Randazzo. Indeed, if things really get acrimonious, she could follow in the steps of Elaine Wynn.

When she divorced her tycoon husband Steve, she ultimately ended up being the largest shareholder of his casino empire and she pressed to restructure its board. Similarly, real-estate magnate Frank McCourt’s divorce from his wife earlier this decade eventually led to the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Amazon shareholders needn’t worry though, says Matt Levine on Bloomberg. Bezos is currently the largest Amazon shareholder, with about 16.1% of the stock, and he just owns ordinary common stock, with no special voting rights or agreements that give him more power than ordinary shareholders.

He has nowhere close to a majority of votes. So even before the divorce is finalised, there’s nothing stopping a “disgruntled majority” of shareholders dumping him. It is his reputation as an exceptional CEO that means “this is not something that ever really comes up”. So the divorce is unlikely to affect Amazon much.

Bezos has no cause for complaint anyway, says Jill Filipovic in The Guardian. It’s unlikely he’d have been able to have a stable, happy family and build a prosperous company without the work of his wife. Mrs Bezos made “significant sacrifices to make Amazon work”. She deserves her share.

It’s not all about the money

Still, it’s doubtful he’ll miss whatever sum he hands over to his wife as much as he’ll miss the woman who helped him build his fortune, as Celia Walden says in The Daily Telegraph. Leading divorce attorney

Laura Wasser tells Walden, “You can hack off or add on several zeros to the income or the size of the estate, but in the end everybody has the same anxiety, sadness and anger when a marriage ends. Whether it’s ‘who is going to walk the red carpet with me at the Oscars’ or ‘who is going to go to the office Christmas party with me and Xerox their face next to mine?’, the fears are the same.”

And Jeff will also have status anxiety to deal with. Instead of sending our condolences, perhaps we could help him out by going to our Amazon accounts and “buying that single desultory item we’ve had sitting in our baskets since Christmas”. Bezos’s “marriage may be over, but right now, his status as the world’s richest man still hangs in the balance”.

Tabloid money… ending a marriage with the click of a button

• Andy Murray has made millions from playing tennis and lives a  high-flying lifestyle, says Anne Diamond in the Sunday Express.  But there is one thing money can’t buy – giving his two very young daughters the “precious memory  of their dad as a champ, at the  top of his game”. Murray wanted them to witness “the vision of their father as Britain’s top sportsman, the best tennis player we’ve ever had, an absolute winner”.

Sadly, he cannot serve that up,  having announced his imminent retirement from the sport due to  a hip injury that has troubled him over the years. Still, as former tennis ace Billie Jean King tweeted, having inspired future generations, his greatest impact on the world may still be to come.

• “On Christmas Day, 13 people took advantage of the new ‘fully digital’ divorces that form part of a £1bn modernisation drive by the Ministry of Justice”, says Jane Moore in The Sun. By New Year’s Day the number had swelled to 455. Couples could upload documents, pay fees, and end their marriages at the click of a few buttons. But as the stresses of the festive period receded, how many will have had second thoughts?

“Quite a few, I’ll bet. Which is why I question the benefit of an initiative that saves the government a few bob — but at what cost emotionally to society, if people can opt to end their marriage so easily?” The “race to divorce should involve a few stop-and-think hurdles along the way… shouldn’t it”?

• Jeremy Clarkson says it’s become impossible for men to get the best jobs at the BBC because they all go to women, says Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror. He even told Nick Robinson he’d wasted his petrol money turning up for an interview to be the new host of Question Time, because it was always going to go to a woman. Come off it. “It’s a bit rich of a man made obscenely wealthy by TV producers to bemoan his plight.

He is, after all, the host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and earns megabucks as the face of Amazon Prime.” And he’d still be the main man on Top Gear if he hadn’t punched a fellow worker. “Just a hunch, Jez, but maybe that’s why the BBC think they’re better off with women.”

 

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