Today is Jeff Bezos’ last day as Amazon CEO, ending a remarkable 27-year run that saw the e-commerce giant become one of the most valuable public companies in the world, with a market capitalization of $1.8 trillion. In the process, his fortune has increased by 12,425%—up by $196 billion since 1998, when he first appeared on The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans with a net worth of $1.6 billion. Now, he’s worth nearly $202 billion, making him the richest person on Earth.
Bezos will still stay on as Amazon’s executive chairman, while Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy—who joined the e-retailer in 1997—will take over day-to-day operations as CEO on July 5. Bezos won’t be as involved with the company he founded in 1994; he’ll instead focus on his other interests, including his charities—the Bezos Day One Fund and the Bezos Earth Fund—as well as his commercial space company, Blue Origin, which is set to take him and his brother Mark into space on July 20.
Bezos first became a billionaire in 1998, the year after Amazon went public as an online bookseller. At the time, the company was only just beginning to expand past books by allowing customers to buy CDs online. That year, Amazon’s average share price was only $7.47, a fraction of the $3,487.40 shares are worth today.
Over the next two decades, Amazon’s business began expanding into other industries. In 2005, the company launched its now famous Prime membership service, offering customers who paid an annual $79 fee for free two-day-delivery. (Amazon Prime now costs $119 a year.) In 2006, Amazon created its cloud computing unit Amazon Web Services, which is now the most profitable arm of the company. It got into streaming video in 2011, groceries by acquiring Whole Foods in 2017, home security with its purchase of Ring in 2018 and also film production —which it’s aiming to expand with its recent bid for MGM studios in May.
Amazon’s sheer size and growing influence has drawn criticism from all corners of the political spectrum. Antitrust regulators are investigating the company, labor activists are seeking to unionize Amazon’s sprawling network of warehouses, progressive lawmakers have publicly slammed Bezos’s massive wealth and conservatives denounced Amazon’s decision earlier this year to remove a book on transgender issues. Amazon responded at the time saying it has a policy of refusing to sell books framing LGBTQ identities as mental illnesses.
Despite recent hurdles and antitrust concerns, Amazon’s stock price continued to skyrocket, rewarding its founder with an ever-increasing fortune. Bezos became the wealthiest person in the world in 2018 when his net worth doubled, jumping from $81.5 billion in October 2017 to $160 billion the following October, thanks to Amazon’s soaring stock price. He beat out Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, becoming the first person to amass a 12-figure fortune on Forbes’s annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans. He’s stayed on top of the list since then, particularly as the pandemic pushed Amazon shares to new heights. Elon Musk briefly overtook Bezos as the world’s richest in January this year, and LVMH chief Bernard Arnault of France did the same in May, but surging Amazon stock put him back on top again. Since 2019, Bezos’s fortune has increased by 73%— despite the fact that he gave one-quarter of his Amazon stock to his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott when they divorced that year.
Nearly 90% of his fortune—about $176 billion—lies in his 10% stake in Amazon, Forbes estimates. The rest is spread between his investment in rocket company Blue Origin, various homes around the country, the Washington Post newspaper and a host of investments in at least two dozen tech and biotech companies. Over the years, Bezos has sold nearly $27 billion worth of Amazon stock (before taxes), leaving him with tens of billions to spend as he chooses. Time will tell how he chooses to keep spending it.
- Edited and written by Emirhan Tongün.