Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his sooon-to-be-ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, announced Thursday a divorce settlement that will leave him with 75 per cent of their Amazon stock and voting power over all of the Amazon voting shares the former couple own together.
The announcement from the Bezoses - coming in a tweet from MacKenzie that was retweeted by Jeff - settled a closely watched matter of corporate governance affecting one of the world's richest companies, with a market capitalisation of US$890 billion ($1.3 trillion), and the world's wealthiest person.
The record divorce settlement, which also will award Jeff Bezos all of the former couple's joint holdings in The Washington Post and a space-flight company, Blue Origin, is likely to remove uncertainty over the extent of his continued control over Amazon - a company he founded in 1994 and for which he remains CEO and has the most stock of any shareholder. Their marriage lasted 25 years, and they have four children.
MacKenzie Bezos, 48, will be awarded about 4 per cent of the company, a stake worth roughly US$36b, based on Amazon's market value Thursday. She will become one of the wealthiest women in the world, after such heiresses as the women who own giant stakes in L'Oreal and Walmart.
Bezos, 55, will retain the remaining 12 per cent of the company. He will, however, have sole voting power over the shares the two once jointly controlled, which together amount to 16 per cent of Amazon's total shares. Jeff Bezos is worth at least US$107b, based on his Amazon holdings alone. Forbes estimated his worth earlier this year at US$131b before the divorce settlement. The world's second-richest person at the time was Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, a neighbor of the Bezoses, with about US$96.5b, according to Forbes.
The divorce should be settled in roughly 90 days, according to an Amazon regulatory filing Thursday.
Investors shrugged off the news Thursday afternoon, with the stock, which was down slightly for the day, showing little obvious change after the tweets, suggesting that investors expected a divorce settlement that left Bezos firmly in control.
It wasn't immediately clear how the Bezoses may divvy up their various holdings in companies such as Airbnb and Uber. His Bezos Expeditions venture firm has invested in tech firms, including trucking startup Convoy and human resources software firm Workday, as well as Business Insider. He has also financed a multimillion-dollar project to build a clock that could run for 10,000 years, located on a Texas ranch the former couple own.
Also undisclosed is how the Bezoses may divide their real estate holdings, which include mansions in Bellevue, Washington, and Beverly Hills, California; the largest private home in Washington, D.C.; the Texas ranch; and condos in New York. Together, those holdings are worth tens of millions of dollars.
A spokesman for Jeff Bezos didn't respond to a request for comment. MacKenzie Bezos' literary agent declined to make her available for comment.
MacKenzie Bezos, author of the 2013 novel "Traps," was the first to speak on the divorce settlement on Thursday, in what appeared to be a carefully choreographed announcement. The tweet was her first, from an account created this month. Jeff Bezos follows her on Twitter - and nobody else - making it easy to know when her tweet had been made public and to immediately retweet it, as he did, to his 882,000 followers.
Her tweet disclosed the terms of the divorce and added in a personal note, "Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff with support from each other and everyone who reached out to us in kindness, and looking forward to the next phase as co-parents and friends… Excited about my own plans. Grateful for the past as I look forward to what comes next."
Jeff Bezos' tweet echoed hers and praised MacKenzie Bezos, saying, "She has been an extraordinary partner, ally, and mother. She is resourceful and brilliant and loving, and as our futures unroll, I know I'll always be learning from her."
They didn't disclose custody terms of their children on Thursday.
The public exchange of affectionate respect between the former couple came after months of revelations about Jeff Bezos' relationship with a former news anchor, Lauren Sanchez. Their intimate text exchanges and photographs were published by the National Enquirer in January. Bezos later accused the tabloid of attempting to blackmail him by threatening to publish more intimate photos unless he publicly said the Enquirer's reporting was not politically motivated.
He responded in the blog post by including copies of Enquirer emails detailing the alleged threat, in the process revealing graphic descriptions of what the images showed. The National Enquirer has said it was engaged in "good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him."
MacKenzie Bezos worked in Amazon's early days as an accountant and helped to negotiate contracts. The two of them met as employees of hedge fund D.E. Shaw in New York and were married in 1993, about a year before Jeff Bezos founded Amazon as an online bookseller in Seattle, where they settled. She has not had a prominent or public role in Amazon in recent years.
She has occasionally defended her husband in public. She wrote a lengthy one-star review on Amazon after the release of "The Everything Store" in 2013, saying the book chronicling Amazon's rise was filled with inaccuracies.
Thursday was the second time the Bezoses used Twitter to announce information about their marriage. "As our family and close friends know, after a period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends," they announced in January.
The tweet, which appeared under the signature of "Jeff & MacKenzie" said nothing about their assets, fueling speculation over how they would divide more than US$130b of assets accumulated during their marriage.
Peter Walzer, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said shortly after the announcement that dividing assets can prove complex when the bulk of a couple's wealth is tied up in a single company.
"These do get very complicated," Walzer said.
He said Thursday that the deal announced on Twitter left key details unanswered, including whether there was a prenuptial agreement or other factor that kept MacKenzie Bezos from getting half of the assets. Divorce law in Washington state - the Bezoses live in a Seattle suburb - treats property accumulated during a marriage as shared equally between the two spouses, unless there are prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that make different arrangements contractually.
"Any deal is a good deal if they agree to it," Walzer said. "She's one of the wealthiest people in the world, but . . . why wouldn't she get half of everything?"
Thursday's announcement also resolved questions about the future of The Washington Post, which Jeff Bezos bought for US$250 million in 2013, and Blue Origin.
Jeff Bezos' ownership of The Post has drawn the famously private technology titan into public view. President Donald Trump has regularly criticised Amazon, The Post and Bezos on Twitter, sometimes intentionally misspelling his name.
After news broke of the looming divorce - and during a period of questions about the future of his various holdings - Trump tweeted, "So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!"
Blue Origin, based south of Seattle, has long been one of Jeff Bezos' main passions. As a child, he was a "Star Trek" devotee, and he founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the hope of eventually having "millions of people living and working in space."
He has said that attempting to lower the cost of access to space is "the most important work I'm doing." He's referred to Amazon as a winning "lottery ticket" that has allowed him to indulge his passion for space by starting Blue Origin, and he has pledged to spend US$1b a year of his own money on the venture.