SAN FRANCISCO: He built one of the world’s most valuable companies from scratch, becoming the richest person on the planet. Now Jeff Bezos is intent on showing he won’t be bullied in a battle of wills with the politically connected owner of a supermarket tabloid.
The 55-year-old Bezos founded Amazon in his garage in 1994 and went on to grow it into a colossus that dominates online retail, with operations in streaming music and television, groceries, cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence and more. His other businesses include The Washington Post newspaper and the private space firm Blue Origin.
While Bezos has long been in the public eye because of Amazon’s growth and his estimated $133 billion fortune, he was thrust into the spotlight with his announcement in January that he and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, were divorcing.
When the National Enquirer, controlled by President Donald Trump’s ally David Pecker, threatened to release lurid, intimate pictures of Bezos and his mistress, he fought back by releasing the details of his exchanges publicly. “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?” Bezos wrote on Medium.
The bombshell from Bezos brought a tidal wave of reactions, many praising his decision to face down Pecker and the Enquirer. “Not everyone can stand up to bullies, thugs and extortionists, but if you can, you should,” said rival tech entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay.
Until recently, Bezos had been seen as a bookish but determined entrepreneur, running his businesses with ruthless determination but avoiding the limelight — steering clear of confronting Trump after a series of attacks by the president.
Road to riches
Bezos’s penchant for experimenting reportedly dates to a young age — with one widely shared story recounting how he tried to dismantle his own crib as a toddler.
His mother was a teenager when she gave birth to Bezos in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Jan 12, 1964. “You shaped us, you protected us, you let us fall, you picked us up, and you loved us, always and unconditionally,” Bezos said in a Twitter message thanking his mom “for everything” on Mother’s Day in May.
She remarried when her son was about four years old, and he was legally adopted by his Cuban immigrant stepfather who worked as an engineer at a major petrochemical company.
“My dad came here from Cuba all by himself without speaking English when he was 16 years old, and has been kicking ass ever since,” Bezos said in a Father’s Day tweet in June.
His mother’s family were settlers in Texas, where Bezos spent many a summer working at a ranch owned by a grandfather retired from a job as a regional director at the US Atomic Energy Commission.
Bezos was enchanted by computer science when the IT industry was in its infancy and he studied engineering at Princeton University.
After graduating, he put his skills to work on Wall Street, where by 1990 he had risen to be a senior vice president at investment firm D.E. Shaw. He surprised peers by leaving his high-paid position about four years later to open an online bookseller called Amazon.com, which according to legend was started in a garage in a Seattle suburb. Bezos was backed by money borrowed from his parents.
Bezos went from being a boy with a love for how things work to being the man who built Amazon.com into an internet powerhouse.
Amazon lost money for many years as Bezos insisted on investing revenues for future growth, a plan which only recently has started to pay off.
Last year, he announced Amazon would be seeking a second headquarters after outgrowing Seattle, launching a competition derided by some as a Hunger Games competition.
The company eventually decided on two locations — one in New York City and the other in the Virginia suburbs of the capital Washington.
In releasing Amazon’s latest results which showed a record $3 billion quarterly profit, Bezos put the emphasis on artificial intelligence and the Alexa digital assistant.
Bezos declined to join other billionaires in pledging the bulk of his fortune to charity, but last year announced a philanthropic fund with a $2 billion initial commitment to help homeless families and launch preschools in low-income communities.
Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2019