Mackenzie Bezos deserves half of Jeff Bezos fortune because there would be no Amazon without her

Business Insider | Jan 11, 2019, 02.01AM IST
Jeff Bezos

Danny Moloshok/Reuters

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are getting divorced after 25 years of marriage. Would today's Amazon exist if they had never been married? Probably not.

  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos created the world's most valuable company during the 25 years he was married to MacKenzie Bezos.
  • The couple, which announced plans for divorce on Wednesday, apparently have no prenuptial agreement and live in a state where assets are split 50/50.
  • MacKenzie was part of Amazon's early team, helping to come up with the name and serving as its first accountant. But there's another reason she deserves half of the $137 billion Amazon fortune.

Jeff Bezos, the world's wealthiest person and the CEO of Amazon, is getting divorced from MacKenzie Bezos, his spouse of 25 years.

Apparently, there was no prenup. And in Washington, where the couple lives, assets acquired after a prenup-less marriage are split 50/50.

If you're married to the world's richest person (Bezos' net worth is $137 billion!) who is entirely self-made, do you deserve to get half?

For MacKenzie Bezos, absolutely. For one simple reason: There would be no Amazon without her.

MacKenzie Tuttle and Jeff Bezos met in 1992 when they both worked for hedge fund D.E. Shaw. MacKenzie graduated from Princeton and became a research associate at the firm where Bezos was a vice president. Her office was next door to his and three months after they began dating, in 1993, they were married.

While at D.E. Shaw, Bezos came up with the idea for Amazon. MacKenzie was supportive from the beginning, despite the high probability that his venture would fail (almost all startups do).

Brad Stone writes in The Everything Store: "At the time, Bezos was newly married, with a comfortable apartment on the Upper West Side and a well-paying job. While MacKenzie said she would be supportive if he decided to strike out on his own, the decision was not an easy one."

MacKenzie later told CBS: "I'm not a businessperson. So to me, what I'm hearing when he tells me that idea is the passion and the excitement... And to me, you know, watching your spouse, somebody that you love, have an adventure - what is better than that, and being part of that?"

In 1994, at age 30 and 24 respectively, Jeff and MacKenzie decided to blow up their cushy lives.

They road tripped across the country in search of a new home and headquarters for Amazon. MacKenzie drove while Bezos punched out a business plan and revenue projections in the passenger seat. After starting in Texas and buying an old beat up car, they wound up in Seattle.

The pair brainstormed the name "Amazon" together after almost choosing a different name, Relentless.com. MacKenzie became Amazon's first accountant, despite the fact that she was an aspiring novelist. She did a lot of other grunt work, like most early startup employees do, from driving book orders to the post office to handling the company's bank account and line of credit. She met early Amazon investor John Doerr and partied with the team in Mexico after Amazon's IPO.

But beyond her early role in the company is the significant role any spouse plays in a partner's career.

Both Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg say that the most important career decision you can make is who you marry.

Sure, there's the sacrifice one partner might make to allow the other to pursue a demanding career. But that's not what Buffett was getting at.

"Marry the right person," he said at the 2009 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. "I'm serious about that. It will make more difference in your life. It will change your aspirations, all kinds of things."

Would the notion of opening an online bookstore have taken hold of Bezos as forcibly if he hadn't met MacKenzie? Would he have executed on that vision in the same way, hired the same people and taken the same kinds of risks with a different partner?

Obviously these are impossible questions to answer. But it's not outrageous to suggest that a person's motivations, attitudes and goals are influenced by the most important person in their life.

Regardless of whether a spouse is listed as a partner on a business masthead, many couples operate as a team focused on a grander, overarching enterprise and working in tandem to achieve common goals. That's part of the reason why many state laws recognize the concept of community property.

Buffett has said that without his first wife Susi, who died in 2004, he would not have built his fortune. "What happened with me would not have happened without her," he said in a 2017 HBO documentary.

What happened to Bezos would not have happened without MacKenzie.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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