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Inside Jeff Bezos' Mysterious Private World Beyond His Billions

Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez Are Engaged

If there's one thing everybody knows about Jeff Bezos, it's that he's obscenely rich.

The Amazon founder, who's turning 60 on Jan. 12, has the kind of money that's too mind-boggling to exist in physical dollars and cents. His estimated $176.6 billion fortune is currently enough to make him the third-richest man in the world, according to Forbes' Real-Time Billionaires List, after Elon Musk and luxury brand magnate Bernard Arnault

And even if the name Bezos means nothing to you, it's likely you have contributed to his eye-popping wealth as a consumer of the online retail behemoth that's as close to an instant answer to your prayers you're likely to get (especially if you were praying for shoes, dish soap and pet food to appear all at once, and you asked a woman named Alexa, who lives in a little box in your house, to make it happen).

But while Bezos, who stepped down as CEO of Amazon on July 5, 2021, is a legend in the online commerce and disrupter worlds—as well as a political donor and philanthropist, Hollywood mover-and-shaker, and, since 2013, the owner of the Washington Post—he never was your friendly neighborhood billionaire like Warren Buffett, the face of eradicating malaria like Bill Gates or an enigmatic man in black holding the future in the palm of his hand, like the late Steve Jobs.

In fact, not a lot of regular folks were paying all that much attention to Bezos until his love life exploded all over the tabloids in the most relatable (for celebrities, that is) of ways.

photosSurprise Celebrity Billionaires

In January 2019, Bezos and his wife of 25 years, author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, announced that they were divorcing. At the time they shared four children, an estimated 400,000 acres of property, the aforementioned billions, and, according to TMZ, no prenuptial agreement.

That sounds surprising, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn't have one either, so let's just say a prenup isn't the only way to parse out a massive amount of assets.

In any case, the split—according to the exes—was amicable.

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

"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," read a joint statement that Bezos tweeted out in the rarest of comments about his personal life. "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. We've had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures. Though the labels might be different, we remain a family, and we remain friends."

Scott also, incidentally, became one of the richest people in the world once her piece of the fortune was finalized.

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Inside Jeff Bezos' Mysterious Private World Beyond His Billions

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What made the whole thing spicier at the time was that Bezos already had a girlfriend, veteran TV personality and former Good Day LA co-host Lauren Sánchez—who was still technically married to, but separated from, Patrick Whitesell, the co-CEO of mega-agency William Morris Endeavor and father of two of her three children.

Bezos and Sánchez have been together ever since and got engaged in May 2023, but their coupling was painted in a scandalous light at first, prompting Bezos to take action.

Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Amazon Studios

It was reported that Whitesell was blindsided by his wife's relationship with Bezos, whose purported sexy text exchanges with Sánchez were leaked for public consumption.

An attorney for Bezos told the National Enquirer, which first published the texts, that it was "widely known" that his client and Scott were "long separated." A source also told Page Six that Mackenzie knew about her ex's new relationship, and that Sánchez was with Bezos at the 2019 Golden Globes because they were openly dating. 

Bezos, Sánchez and Whitesell were all spotted chatting at Amazon's Golden Globes after-party that night, according to People.

photos2019 Golden Globes: After-Party Pics

Bezos, however, went a step further and took to Medium to accuse the Enquirer of attempted extortion, alleging the publication threatened to publish intimate photos if he didn't make a favorable public statement about the tabloid.

"Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there's a much more important matter involved here," he wrote. "If in my position I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?"

The Enquirer stood by its reporting on Bezos and maintained it had acted lawfully.

But the Medium post really was an uncharacteristic bit of public pushback on one of the countless narratives that has circulated about Bezos since he and Scott launched Amazon out of the garage of their Seattle rental home in 1994.

photos2023 Celebrity Engagements

Bezos was a man who had "proved quite indifferent to the opinion of others…an avid problem solver, a man who has a chess grandmaster's view of the competitive landscape," Brad Stone wrote in his 2013 book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

He was a congenial and outgoing guy with a famously big laugh ("like a cross between a mating elephant seal and a power tool," Stone wrote), but prone to the same mercurial behavior associated with Jobs, friendly one minute and liable to cut a person down to size the next.

The name Amazon, as in the world's largest river, reflected Bezos' mighty ambition—and it purposely started with "A" so it would be near the top of any alphabetical company listing.

"People say that your life races before your eyes," Bezos told Fast Company in 2004, a year after he emerged from a helicopter crash with only a few cuts on his head. "This particular accident happened slowly enough that we had a few seconds to contemplate it."

Bezos continued, laughing heartily, "I have to say, nothing extremely profound flashed through my head in those few seconds. My main thought was, This is such a silly way to die. It wasn't life-changing in any major way. I've learned a fairly tactical lesson from it, I'm afraid. The biggest takeaway is: Avoid helicopters whenever possible! They're not as reliable as fixed-wing aircraft."

Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for This Is About Humanity

Sánchez, however, is a helicopter pilot who has her own aerial production company, Black Ops Aviation, and you best believe Bezos' $500 million superyacht has a helipad.

"I've also learned how to fly the helicopter," Bezos told CNN in November 2022. "And she's a horrible backseat pilot. She's terrible!"

Vowing to spend more time looking out the window, Sanchez acknowledged with a laugh, "I'm like, 'No, no. Pull up. Okay. Okay, Slow down.' But he's very good."

Which certainly isn't a surprise, considering Bezos has never been one to tackle a challenge with anything less than…everything.

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"Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?" Bezos inquired in the commencement speech he gave for Princeton's Class of 2010. "Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?"

And it all started with a bunch of books.

Bezos and Scott first met in New York while working at a Wall Street hedge fund. Bezos, tuned in to the fact that Internet commerce was the wave of the future, studied his options and decided he wanted to start an online bookstore. He took the idea to his own boss, who, according to Tom Robinson's Jeff Bezos: Amazon.com Architect, said it was a good idea, but a better idea for someone who didn't already work full-time.

When he got the idea for what would become Amazon (and was almost called Relentless.com, but friends deemed that scary), Bezos came up with what he called a "regret-minimization framework" to help him work out the pros and cons of leaving his successful career in finance. "When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff," he later said, per Stone.

"I have no business sense whatsoever," Scott told Vogue in 2013, "but I saw how excited he was."

Paul Souders/Getty Images

"I had just turned 30 years old, and I'd been married for a year," Bezos recounted in the 2010 Princeton commencement address. "I told my wife MacKenzie that I wanted to quit my job and go do this crazy thing that probably wouldn't work since most startups don't, and I wasn't sure what would happen after that."

So in the summer of 1994, the couple flew to Texas, where his parents lived. They told the movers to just start driving west and they would follow up with an exact destination—which, at the moment, they weren't sure of yet.

Jackie and Miguel Bezos (who also goes by Mike) loaned the couple the SUV in which Scott drove them to Seattle, while Bezos worked on his laptop. They didn't have any personal ties to the city, but a friend had recommended it—and at the time online retailers didn't have to collect sales tax in states where they didn't have a physical presence. Washington was small and he wanted the rest of his customers around the country to avoid paying sales tax. 

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Jackie was 17 when Bezos was born in Albuquerque; he was 1 when Jackie divorced his biological father, Ted Jorgenson. Mike, who left Cuba for the U.S. when he was 15, met Jackie while working the night shift at Bank of New Mexico while attending the University of Albuquerque. They married when Jeff was 4 and Mike adopted him. Bezos has said that Mike is the only father he's ever known. The family moved around for Mike's work, from Albuquerque, to Houston and then to Miami, where Bezos enrolled in a science program at University of Florida while still in high school.

He was a supremely talented student in math and science, a Star Trek fan who loved to tinker with stuff in the garage, senior class president and valedictorian. He went on to major in electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton.

In 1995, Jackie and Mike invested $245,573 in their son's start-up, Amazon.com.

MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images

"I want you to know how risky this is," Jeff told them, according to remarks Mike Bezos gave in 2015 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, "because I want to come home at dinner for Thanksgiving and I don't want you to be mad at me."

According to Bloomberg in 2018, their share of the company was worth about $30 billion—a 12 million percent return. Bezos' younger siblings, Mark and Christina, also purchased 30,000 shares apiece for $10,000 in 1996 and in 2018 each holding was valued at as much as $640 million.

"We were fortunate enough that we have lived overseas [they had just spent three years in Bogotá, Colombia] and we have saved a few pennies so we were able to be an angel investor," Mike, a former engineer at Exxon, said. "The rest is history."

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Back in 1990, Bezos joined investment firm D.E. Shaw & Company and was a senior vice president within two years. According to The Everything Store, as a single guy he took ballroom dancing lessons, hoping to increase the probability of meeting "n+ women." He made a flow chart.

"The number one criterion was that I wanted a woman who could get me out of a third-world prison," Bezos later said, according to Richard Brandt's 2011 book One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com. "What I really wanted was someone resourceful. But nobody knows what you mean when you say, 'I'm looking for a resourceful woman'…Life's too short to hang out with people who aren't resourceful."

Sara Jaye/Getty Images

Eventually he met MacKenzie Scott (née Tuttle), a research associate and fellow Princeton grad from San Francisco who worked in the office right next to his. Sensing a connection as they got to know each other and with Bezos reluctant to make a move as the supervisor of her team, Scott approached him.

"My office was next door to his, and all day I listened to that fabulous laugh," Scott, an English major who had done research for Toni Morrison while the Nobel Prize winner was writing Jazz, told Vogue. "How could you not fall in love with that laugh?"

They got engaged three months after their first lunch date, then married in 1993 at the Breakers in West Palm Beach, Fla., where the reception included an adult-size play area with water balloons.

"I think my wife is resourceful, smart, brainy, and hot," Bezos told Vogue, "but I had the good fortune of having seen her résumé before I met her, so I knew exactly what her SATs were." (He wouldn't reveal her score.)

photosReal Housewives' Real Businesses

Once in Seattle, they rented a house for $890 a month in the suburb of Bellevue; set up some tables, chairs and computers in their garage, starting with $25,000 of their own money; and Amazon.com was registered on Feb. 9, 1995, with Bezos' parents being his primary investors at the time.

Scott was the company's first bookkeeper, secretary and office manager. The couple's golden retriever, Kamala (named after a creature from Star Trek: The Next Generation) would hang out in the garage. Amazon's small staff would sometimes go to a nearby Barnes & Noble for coffee and meetings.  

The site went live on July 16, 1995.

photosFriendly Celebrity Exes

By that September, Amazon.com was selling $20,000 in books a week. That first year, the company had a net loss of $303,000. They went public in 1997 and raised $54 million in capital; moved into new headquarters in a former hospital in 1998; and Bezos was named TIME magazine's Person of the Year in 1999. The article described him as "pathologically happy and infectiously enthusiastic."

Amazon's death knell was sounded many a time in the 1990s, and the company would not report a quarterly profit, of $5 million, until the fourth quarter of 2001—which saw $2 billion in sales for the year. They turned a profit in 2003. In 2004, Fast Company reported that they were on track for $7 billion in sales and $400 million in net earnings. 

In the third quarter of 2023, Amazon reported $143.1 billion in sales and $9.9 billion in net income. 

"The thing about inventing is you have to be both stubborn and flexible, more or less simultaneously," Bezos told Fast Company. "Of course, the hard part is figuring out when to be which."

Rex Rystedt/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Amazon's infamously intense, overtime-expected, high-turnover workplace culture has been well-documented, often not flatteringly.

Bezos, whose inspiration included the visionaries Thomas Edison and Walt Disney, expected his employees to abide by 14 core leadership principles, according to Stone: customer obsession; ownership; invent and simplify; "are right, a lot" (if you know what you're doing, you're probably right); learn and be curious; hire and develop the best; insist on the highest standards; think big; bias for action (go for it, don't overthink); frugality; earn trust; dive deep; have backbone, disagree and commit; and deliver results.

Employees didn't give Power Point presentations, Stone wrote, but rather had to prepare six-page treatises laying out their ideas. The approach fostered critical thinking, according to the boss.

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"It's not easy to work here…but we are working to build something important, something that matters to our customers, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about," Bezos wrote in a 1997 letter to shareholders. 

As he told the Princeton class of 2010, "When it's tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless? Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder? Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?"

Eric Schmidt, then executive chairman of Google (and an Amazon Prime member), told Stone, "To me Amazon is a story of a brilliant founder who personally drove the vision. There are almost no better examples…It lost hundreds of millions of dollars. But Jeff was very garrulous, very smart. He's a classic technical founder of a business, who understands every detail and cares about it more than anyone."

Katie Jones/Variety/Shutterstock

Incidentally, Scott left a one-star review of The Everything Store on Amazon.com under the subject line, "I wanted to like this book," and called it a "lopsided and misleading portrait of the people and culture at Amazon."

Stone, in response, told the New York Times, that Bezos had "approved many interviews with current Amazon executives and former Amazon executives" and had declined interview requests for himself. "Most of the readers and reviewers have been inspired by Amazon's story," the author said. "To me, it's not an unflattering account."

During their marriage, Bezos and Scott acquired a real estate portfolio that included a gated 5.3-acre compound in the Seattle suburb of Medina, reachable via the longest floating bridge in the world; the South Texas ranch where Bezos used to spend summers with his grandparents, near where his aeronautics and space-exploration company Blue Origin is also based; a $24 million home in Beverly Hills; four condos in a building on Manhattan's Upper West Side; and a residence in Washington D.C. that broke a record for Beltway home prices when Bezos bought the former Textile Museum in 2016 for $23 million.

Michael Buckner/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images

He and Scott share three sons and a daughter, whose privacy has always been a top priority (eldest son Preston, which is also Bezos' middle name, is the only one whose name is public). But Bezos shared some parenting insight at the Summit LA 17 event while being interviewed by his brother, Mark. 

"How do you help your children, what's the right thing?" Bezos mused. "My wife has a great saying—we let our kids use, even now they're 17 through 12, but even when they were 4, we would let them use sharp knives. By the time they were, I don't know, maybe 7 or 8, we would let them use certain power tools and my wife, much to her credit, she has this great saying, 'I would much rather have a kid with 9 fingers than a resourceless kid.' Which, I just think, is a fantastic attitude about life."

Scott is also the author of two novels, 2005's The Testing of Luther Albright and 2013's Traps. "Jeff is my best reader," she told Vogue, noting that her husband would block out a big chunk of time and read a manuscript in one sitting, leaving her detailed notes.

photosCutest Celeb Kids on Instagram

Acknowledging how unusual her lot in life had become, Scott said, "I am definitely a lottery winner of a certain kind and it makes my life wonderful in many ways, but that's not the lottery I feel defined by. 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."

"Jeff is the opposite of me," she also said. "He likes to meet people. He's a very social guy. Cocktail parties for me can be nerve-racking. The brevity of conversations, the number of them—it's not my sweet spot."

Bezos said of Scott, "Writing makes her really happy." On days when she would get up early to write, "by the time I come down, she will be literally dancing in the kitchen, which the kids and I love."

Karwai Tang/WireImage

Another occupation, when you have this kind of wealth, is figuring out where your money is going to do the most good and, according to Forbes, Bezos has given away roughly $3 billion, including a recent $118 million pledge to groups that aid families experiencing homelessness. 

Scott, who married science teacher Dan Jewett in 2021 but filed for divorce in September 2022 (the split was finalized in January 2023), has reportedly given away more than $16 billion since she and Bezos went their separate ways in 2019.

And just as he and his ex-wife teamed up to make numerous massive pledges during their time together, he's now making those decisions with Sánchez.

photosDo-Gooder Gallery

"It's the greatest experience I've ever had," Sánchez said of partnering with her now-fiancé on business and philanthropic endeavors. She told WSJ. Magazine in January 2023, "I've always had a career very separate from my partner. We love to be together and we love to work together. He's helping me with the book. He's getting his pilot's license. We fly together. We work out together. We're together all the time."

The 54-year-old said she also planned to lead an all-female mission to space on a Blue Origin rocket in early 2024.

Bezos had just told her, "'Fly fast; take chances,'" Sánchez shared. "That's his motto. He's very encouraging and excited, and he's thrilled we're putting this group together."

And while she's had to tamp down her tendency to share a lot—"I want to tell everyone everything"—she doesn't consider it a sacrifice.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Bezos Earth Fund

"I learned how to not give the location of where I'm at," explained Sánchez, who shares a son with retired NFL star Tony Gonzalez and a daughter and son with Whitesell. "I can't Instagram things that I normally would have before. I have to be more private, a little more controlled, and that's fine."

But if it's a Sunday morning at home, Bezos is making her pancakes.

"He wakes up early," Sánchez said. "He gets the Betty Crocker cookbook out every time, and I'm like, 'OK, you're the smartest man in the world; why don't you have this memorized yet?' But he opens it up every time: Exact portions make the best pancakes in the world."

Sounds like an approach a certain billionaire might take. But Bezos is just trying to show his appreciation with a perfect flour-milk-egg ratio.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for IWMF

"Lauren is the most generous, most big-hearted person that you would ever meet," he told CNN in November 2022. "So, she is an inspiration in that way. She never misses a birthday. The network of people that she gives birthday presents to is gigantic. And that's just a small example."

But they also seem to complement each other perfectly.

"We're really great teammates, and we also have a lot of fun together," Sánchez said. "And we love each other…We always look at each other and we're the team." Added Bezos, "It's easy. We bring each other energy, we respect each other. So, it's fun to work together."

Incidentally, he concluded his address to the Princeton grads in 2010 by reiterating how he often thinks about how he wants to feel about his life when looking back on it from further down the road one day.

"I will hazard a prediction," Bezos said. "When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story."

(Originally published Jan. 11, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)

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