They are the one couple who could ever be called the parents of Amazon.com, and now the split of MacKenzie and Jeff Bezos is casting a spotlight on the woman who might soon become the world’s wealthiest.
The pair jointly announced Wednesday that they plan to divorce, a reminder that the planet’s “richest man” is one half of its richest couple. A share of 16% in Amazon.com is ascribed to Jeff Bezos, who founded the firm in 1994 after the then-newlyweds left New York City for Seattle.
The former couple’s announcement struck a kind tone, and offered nothing on how their wealth, estimated at $137bn, would be divided.
“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 announcement posted on Twitter read. “We feel incredibly lucky to have found each other and deeply grateful for every one of the years we have been married to each other.
“If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again.”
MacKenzie, 48, would become the world’s richest woman if she receives half the Bezos fortune. That title, according to Bloomberg estimates, is currently held by L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, whose net worth is estimated at $45.6bn.
MacKenzie Bezos, an acclaimed novelist who has four children with Jeff, met her future husband while interviewing for a research position at the Manhattan hedge fund where Jeff Bezos dreamed up Amazon.com.
In interviews, MacKenzie Bezos described theirs as an unusual match. Then 23, she was a reserved, aspiring writer working in finance to pay the bills. He was a gregarious guy six years her senior in the office next door.
“Through the walls I would hear him laughing that giant laugh,” MacKenzie Bezos told Charlie Rose. “All day long. And it was, it was totally love at first listen.”
They married six months later, and, shortly thereafter, headed west to follow Jeff’s passion project, launching an online bookstore.
“To me, you know, watching your spouse, somebody that you love have an adventure, what is better than that and being part of that? Couldn’t wait to hop in the car”, she said in that 2013 interview promoting her second novel, Traps.
MacKenzie was a key player in Amazon.com’s early days in a suburban Seattle garage; according to a 1999 Wired report, she negotiated the company’s first freight contracts from a Starbucks attached to a Barnes & Noble near their home. She described the experience while offering a scathing review – on Amazon.com, expectedly – of Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.
“I worked for Jeff at DE Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others … 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,” she wrote.
While parenting their young family, MacKenzie Bezos continued exercising her passion: writing. A San Francisco native, she studied under Toni Morrison while earning her bachelor’s degree at Princeton. MacKenzie Bezos has described Morrison as an attentive mentor who continued to support her during the decade she spent writing her first novel, The Testing of Luther Albright, which won an American Book Award in 2006.
MacKenzie Bezos has acknowledged wealth’s role in her success. Speaking with Vogue in 2013, though, she described herself as a “lottery winner” of a different sort.
“The fact that I got wonderful parents who believed in education and never doubted I could be a writer, the fact that I have a spouse I love, those are the things that define me,” she said at the time.
The Bezos’s recent move into philanthropy has seen MacKenzie Bezos launch an anti-bullying initiative, Bystander Revolution. The couple last year pledged $1bn to fight homelessness in America.
What becomes of the rest of their wealth remains to be seen. Divorce papers do not appear to have been filed in Washington state, where they made their home.
Under Washington state law, unless there is a prenuptial agreement, property acquired during a marriage is usually equally divided in the event of a divorce, said Carol Bailey, managing partner at Integrative Family Law in Seattle.
“The court’s objective when there is considerable wealth is to make sure that both spouses in a long-term marriage of 20 years or more will, after divorce, be taken care of for the rest of their lives, and to make the ultimate financial result fair given the overall context and events of the marriage.”
The announcement was followed by a National Enquirer report alleging that Jeff Bezos had been romantically involved with the wife of an entertainment industry agent. Jeff Bezos has been a frequent target of Donald Trump, whose ties to the Enquirer have been the subject of a criminal investigation.