Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie are divorcing after a relationship that started at a New York hedge fund and is ending a little more than a year after he became the world’s richest person. Photo: AP

INTERNATIONAL – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie are divorcing after a relationship that started at a New York hedge fund and is ending a little more than a year after he became the world’s richest person.

“After a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends,” according to a tweet Wednesday that both of them signed.

The couple met in New York at DE Shaw. Jeff was the first person to interview MacKenzie for a role at the hedge fund and the pair ended up having offices next to each other, according to a 2013 interview with Vogue. They married in 1993 and a year later drove across the country to Seattle, where Jeff founded Amazon. They have four children.

MacKenzie, an author, played a significant role at the company in the early years and “was there when he wrote the business plan,” she wrote in a disparaging 2013 review of a Bezos biography. “I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centres, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history.”

Global wealth ranking

Bezos, 54, is worth $137 billion (R1.9 trillion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 wealthiest people. He owns about 16 percent of the retailer as well as the Washington Post and space exploration company Blue Origin.

“Jeff remains focused on and engaged in all aspects of Amazon,” Drew Herdener, a spokesman for the retailer, said in an emailed statement in response to a question about how the divorce might affect the company and its investors.

A divorce could reshape the global wealth ranking. If the couple split their fortune equally, it could leave MacKenzie, 48, with $69 billion, making her the world’s richest woman. It could also make Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, currently worth $92.5 billion, the planet’s richest person once again. 

Bezos eclipsed Gates in October 2017.

The state of Washington – where Amazon is based and the couple have a home – is a community property state, which means all property and debt acquired during a marriage “will be divided equitably by the court if the couple cannot negotiate an agreement,” according to the website of McKinley Irvin, a family law firm in the region.

An equal division of such a fortune would be unprecedented. While Oracle’s Larry Ellison has been through multiple divorces, none has affected his stake in the software maker. Likewise, Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s stake remained unchanged after he and Anne Wojcicki divorced without fanfare in 2015.

Oil industry magnate Harold Hamm’s separation from Sue Ann Arnall was far messier. The couple filed for divorce in 2012 after 26 years of marriage, and their trial two years later ended with Hamm, the chairman and chief executive of Continental Resources, being ordered to pay her $972 million of his then-estimated $16.1 billion fortune. Arnall later sought to reopen the case but the Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in 2015.

While it's unclear whether the Bezoses have a prenuptial agreement, a split is unlikely to be as acrimonious. Because so much of their wealth is tied up in a publicly traded company, both have an interest in a business-like divorce, said Michael Stutman, a divorce attorney at Stutman, Stutman & Lichtenstein in New York.

“They have a mutual interest in making sure that no one is concerned that the ship has sprung a leak,” he said. “You need to filter their public comments through that lens.”

Amicable Split

When Elaine Wynn divorced casino mogul Steve Wynn, the pair split their 20 percent stake in Wynn Resorts, with Elaine giving him voting control over her shares and agreeing to limit her stock sales. The relationship began to change after Steve remarried in 2011, culminating in lawsuits and accusations of sexual harassment, forcing him to sell his stake.

So far, there’s every indication that the Bezoses’ split will be an amicable one.

“We also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures,” they wrote in the tweet announcing the divorce. “Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain cherished friends.”

Bloomberg