Jeff Bezos was born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen in 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Jacklyn (née Gise) and Ted Jorgensen.
Jeff’s mother Jacklyn was 17 and still in high school at the time of his birth. Her marriage to Jorgensen lasted a little more than a year.
His father, Theodore John Jorgensen, was born in Chicago. His maternal ancestors were settlers who lived in Texas, and over the generations acquired a 25,000-acre (101 km2 or 39 miles2) ranch near Cotulla. As of March 2015, Jeff was among the largest landholders in Texas.
Jeff’s maternal grandfather was Lawrence Preston Gise, a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque. Before joining the AEC, Gise had worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that was created in 1958 as the first response by the US government to the Russian launching of Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite in 1957.
Intended to be the counterbalance to military thinking in research and development, DARPA was formed, according to its official mission statement, to assure that the US maintains a lead in applying technology for military capabilities and to prevent other technological surprises from her adversaries.
In 1970, DARPA’s engineers created a model for a communications network for the military that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication: ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet.
Gise retired early to the ranch, where Jeff spent many summers as a youth, working with him.
In April 1968, when Jeff was 4, she married her second husband, Miguel “Mike” Bezos, a Cuban who immigrated to the United States alone when he was 15 years old. His family was originally from Villafrechós, a little town in Valladolid, Spain.
Mike Bezos worked his way through the University of New Mexico, married Jacklyn, and adopted 4-year-old Jeff Jorgensen, whose surname was then changed to Bezos.
After the wedding, the family moved to Houston, Texas and Mike worked as an engineer for Exxon. Jeff attended River Oaks Elementary School in Houston from fourth to sixth grade.
As a child, he spent summers working on his grandfather’s ranch in southern Texas. Jeff often displayed scientific interests and technological proficiency; he once rigged an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his room.
The family moved to Miami, Florida, where he attended Miami Palmetto High School. While in high school, he attended the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida, receiving a Silver Knight Award in 1982. He was high school valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar.
In 1986, Jeff graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University with Bachelor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. While at Princeton, he was also elected to Tau Beta Pi. He served as the president of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
After graduating from Princeton, Jeff worked on Wall Street in the computer science field. He then worked on building a network for international trade for a company known as Fitel. He next worked at Bankers Trust. Later on, he worked on Internet-enabled business opportunities at the hedge fund company D. E. Shaw & Co.
Jeff founded Amazon.com in 1994 after making a cross-country drive from New York to Seattle, writing up the Amazon business plan on the way.
He initially set up the company in his garage.
He had left his well-paying job at a New York City hedge fund after learning “about the rapid growth in Internet use,” which coincided with a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling that exempted mail order companies from collecting sales taxes in states where they lack a physical presence.
Jeff is known for his attention to business details. As described by Portfolio.com, he “is at once a happy-go-lucky mogul and a notorious micromanager an executive who wants to know about everything from contract minutiae to how he is quoted in all Amazon press releases.”
On Saturday, August 15, 2015, The New York Times published an article entitled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” about Amazon’s business practices.
Jeff responded to his employees with a Sunday memo claiming it did not represent the company he leads and challenged its depiction as “a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard,” and to contact him directly if true.
In May 2016, Jeff sold slightly more than one million shares of his holdings in the company for $671 million, making it the largest amount of money he had ever raised in a sale of his Amazon holdings.
On August 4, 2016, he sold another million of his shares at a value of $756.7 million. As of June 19, 2016, Jeff owned 83.9 million shares of Amazon stock, being 16.9% of all shares outstanding, with a market value of $83.9 billion.
In 2000, Jeff founded Blue Origin, a human spaceflight startup company, partially as a result of his fascination with space travel, including an early interest in developing “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2 million or 3 million people orbiting the Earth.”
The company was kept secret for a few years; it became publicly known only in 2006 when it purchased a sizable aggregation of land in west Texas for a launch and test facility.
In a 2011 interview, Jeff indicated that he founded the space company to help enable “anybody to go into space” and stated that the company was committed to decreasing the cost and increasing the safety of spaceflight.
“Blue Origin is one of several start-ups aiming to open up space travel to paying customers. Like Amazon, the company is secretive, but [in September 2011] revealed that it had lost an unmanned prototype vehicle during a short-hop test flight. Although this was a setback, the announcement of the loss revealed for the first time just how far Blue Origin’s team had advanced,” he stated.
Jeff said that the crash was ‘not the outcome that any of us wanted, but we’re signed up for this to be hard. “A profile published in 2013 described a 1982 Miami Herald interview he gave after he was named high school class valedictorian.”
The 18-year-old Jeff said “he wanted to build space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit. ‘The whole idea is to preserve the earth’ he told the newspaper. The goal was to be able to evacuate humans. The planet would become a park.”
In 2013, Jeff reportedly discussed commercial spaceflight opportunities and strategies with Richard Branson, multibillionaire founder of Virgin Group and chairman of Virgin Galactic.
In 2015, Jeff further discussed the motivation for his spaceflight-related business when he announced a new orbital launch vehicle under development for late-2010s first flight. He indicated that his ambitions in space are not location dependent—Mars, Lunar, asteroidal, etc.—”we want to go everywhere, [requiring significantly lower launch costs.] Our number-one opponent is gravity.
The vision for Blue is pretty simple. We want to see millions of people living and working in space. That’s going to take a long time. I think it’s a worthwhile goal.”
In 2016, Jeff opened up the Blue rocket design and manufacturing facility to journalists for the first time, and gave extensive interviews that included an articulation of his vision for space and for Blue Origin.
Jeff sees space as being “chock full of resources” and foresees a “Great Inversion” where there will emerge “space commercialization that stretches out for hundreds of years, leading to an era when millions of people would be living and working in space.”
He sees both energy and heavy manufacturing occurring in space, having the effect of reduced pollution on Earth, in effect reducing the probability that something “bad happens to the Earth.” Jeff has said that he is trying to change the fundamental cost structure of accessing space.
On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a vertical landing back at the launch site in West Texas.
Blue Origin is in an extensive flight test program of New Shepard which expects to begin carrying “test passengers” in 2017 and initiate commercial flights in 2018. Blue is currently building six of the vehicles to support all phases of testing and operations:- no-passenger test flights, flights with test passengers, and commercial-passenger weekly operations.
In June 2016, Jeff reiterated his long term goal to see nearly all heavy-industry manufacturing factories in space as part of a wide-ranging, but rare, interview.
In September 2016, he added that he hoped to colonize the solar system.
Recently, Jeff also revealed that he was selling about $1 billion in Amazon stock a year to finance his Blue Origin rocket company.
On August 5, 2013, Jeff announced his purchase of The Washington Post for $250 million in cash. Amazon.com was not to be involved. “This is uncharted terrain,” he told the newspaper, “and it will require experimentation.”
Shortly after the announcement of intent to purchase, The Washington Post published a long-form profile of Jeff on August 10, 2013. The sale closed on October 1, 2013, and Bezos’s Nash Holdings LLC took control.
In March 2014, Jeff made his first significant change at The Washington Post and lifted the online paywall for subscribers of a number of U.S. local newspapers including The Dallas Morning News, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Jeff revealed in 2016 that he conducted no due diligence when accepting the first offer from former Washington Post owner Donald E. Graham.
Jeff was one of the first shareholders in Google, when he invested $250,000 in 1998. That $250,000 investment resulted in 3.3 million shares of Google stock worth about $3.1 billion today.
He has also invested in Unity Biotechnology, a life-extension research firm hoping to slow or stop the process of aging.
Jeff makes personal investments through venture capital vehicle Bezos Expeditions and has backed companies across a wide range of industries.
In July 2012, Jeff and his wife personally donated $2.5 million to support a same-sex marriage referendum that successfully passed in Washington.
Nonprofit projects funded by Bezos Expeditions include:
Bezos Center for Innovation at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry – $10 million
Recovery of two Saturn V first-stage Rocketdyne F-1 engines from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
They were positively identified as belonging to the Apollo 11 mission’s S-1C stage in July 2013.
Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at Princeton Neuroscience Institute – $15 million
Bezos Family Foundation, an educational charity.
The foundation is reported being mainly funded by Jeff’s parents from their holdings in Amazon as early investors in the enterprise.
The foundation gave $10 million in 2009 and $20 million in 2010 to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Jeff also donated $800,000 to Worldreader, founded by a former Amazon employee.
He was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 1999. In 2008, he was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s best leaders. Jeff was awarded an honorary doctorate in Science and Technology from Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.
In 2011, The Economist gave Jeff and Gregg Zehr an Innovation Award for the Amazon Kindle.
In 2012, Jeff was named Businessperson of The Year by Fortune. He is also a member of the Bilderberg Group and attended the 2011 Bilderberg conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the 2013 conference in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. He was a member of the Executive Committee of The Business Council for 2011 and 2012.
According to Forbes, Jeff is listed in October 2016 as the third wealthiest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$72 billion. In 2014, he was ranked the best-performing CEO in the world by Harvard Business Review.
As of October 2017, Jeff has been the wealthiest person in the world according to Forbes, surpassing Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates for an hour.
He has also figured in Fortune’s list of 50 great leaders of the world for three straight years, topping the list in 2015.
In September 2016, Jeff was awarded the Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization which earned him $250,000.
The prize money was donated to the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space by Jeff.
In May 2014, Jeff was named World’s Worst Boss by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), at their World Congress. In making the award, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, said “Jeff Bezos represents the inhumanity of employers who are promoting the North American corporate model.”
An article in The New York Times described working for Jeff and in the offices of Amazon as a grueling and inhumane experience, with many employees regularly being terminated or quitting.
Under Jeff’s direction, Amazon has been criticized as “stingy” in its corporate giving practices.
Journalist Shawn McCoy contrasted the philanthropic practices of Amazon and Jeff with the comparatively more generous Microsoft (also based near Seattle) and fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen (who, in April 2017, personally donated $30 million to help house homeless families in Seattle.)
Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, has compared Jeff to Steve Jobs, who was skeptical of philanthropy and made few donations.
Jeff and his wife MacKenzie have four children.
In 2016, Jeff played a Starfleet official in the movie Star Trek Beyond, later joining the cast and crew at a San Diego Comic-Con screening.