25 Billion Dollar-Net Worth
Amazon.com’s success has made Jeff to be one of the wealthiest people in the world today, with an estimated worth of around 25 billion dollars.
With the creation of Amazon.com, Jeff has truly revolutionized the way people think of ‘retailing.’ Today, Amazon.com is one of the largest websites on the Internet, conducting hundreds of millions of transactions every day. Aside from the website, Jeff has also been credited as the creator of “Kindle,” Amazon’s version of the tablet pc. Originally functioning as an e-book reader, Kindle has also developed into becoming a full-fledged tablet pc, and has received numerous recognitions and awards, including becoming a part of the world’s most innovative devices.
Jeff’s success in creating Amazon.com is not the only thing that he can actually brag about in his work career. Prior to founding the online store, Jeff has had a long-term experience in working in Wall Street, where he was able to become the youngest senior vice president of D.E. Shaw, a well-known investment firm.
Through his love and passion for computers, Jeff has been able to turn the computer and the Internet—two trivial things during his time—into one of the busiest and most used services and devices in the world today through his creations. He has a knack for developing new technology, something that has greatly contributed to his company’s success.
Probably one of the things that has made Jeff very successful, not just as an entrepreneur but as a person overall, is his ability to think long-term. When Jeff started Amazon.com, he was not looking at the next five to seven months of the company; he was looking way beyond: to the next five to seven years of his business.
In an interview made with Jeff, he revealed that one of the key pillars to Amazon.com’s spectacular growth and success was the long-term thinking policy that he implemented in the company:
“It does fit into my view. Our first shareholder letter, in 1997, was entitled, “It’s all about the long term.” If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.”
Of course, having a long-term mindset does not mean that Jeff is just fixed on one long-term goal. He acknowledges the inevitability of surprises no matter how hard one plans. Because of that, he was able to balance his long-term goals with the flexibility of how to get there. This flexibility is what enabled Jeff to make innovations in the online industry, such as e-books and infrastructure web services.
Another trait that made Jeff a star in the business world is his knack for taking risks, no matter how large they are. Jeff knows very well that to achieve a large goal, one must be able to face big risks, use a large amount of time, effort and money to be able achieve something great. And while this does appear to be a ridiculous concept to many, Jeff has been able to keep to this reality because of his amazing foresight and persistent attitude. Even at a young age, Jeff has developed this ability of seeing something good in what many see as a bad situation.
This is what made him continue in his efforts when he first started Amazon.com—while a lot of business critics saw the online store idea as a ‘bottomless pit,’ Jeff saw this as a window of opportunity to become a world leader in e-commerce. In a letter he wrote to his employees, Jeff stated:
“We have a window of opportunity as larger players marshal the resources to pursue the online opportunity and as customers, new to purchasing online, are receptive to forming new relationships. The competitive landscape has continued to evolve at a fast pace. Many large players have moved online with credible offerings and have devoted substantial energy and resources to building awareness, traffic, and sales. Our goal is to move quickly to solidify and extend our current position while we begin to pursue the online commerce opportunities in other areas. We see substantial opportunity in the large markets we are targeting. This strategy is not without risk: it requires serious investment and crisp execution against established franchise leaders.”
Finally, Jeff’s biggest ace in the business world has been, and will always be, to have such an obsession in making your customer’s time worth it. Jeff has stated several times that the main focus of Amazon.com is to make people’s lives more convenient and to give them more value. This is why Amazon.com has been so successful all these years—from the time of its inception, Jeff has continued to improve the services of his business to fit the needs of his customers.
As he often says to his employees, the best customer service experience for a customer is when they never have to contact the retailer. Jeff stated in an interview:
“From the beginning, our focus has been on offering our customers compelling value. We realized that the Web was, and still is, the World Wide Wait. Therefore, we set out to offer customers something they simply could not get any other way, and began serving them with books. We brought them much more selection than was possible in a physical store, and presented it in a useful, easy-to-search, and easy-to-browse format in a store open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We maintained a dogged focus on improving the shopping experience, and in 1997 substantially enhanced our store. We dramatically lowered prices, further increasing customer value. Word of mouth remains the most powerful customer acquisition tool we have, and we are grateful for the trust our customers have placed in us. Repeat purchases and word of mouth have combined to make Amazon.com the market leader in online bookselling.”
It would be tempting to think that the reason why Jeff has been so successful in his career is because he came from a wealthy and prosperous family, but this billion-dollar guy actually had very humble beginnings.
Mentored by His Grandfather
Jeff (born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen) was born in 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a teenage mother, Jacklyn Gise, whose marriage with Jeff’s biological father, Ted Jorgensen, lasted for a little more than a year. Because of this, Jeff spent a great deal of his early childhood with his maternal grandparents, whose ancestors settled in the plains of Texas and owned a great portion of land, which they acquired over the generations.
Jacklyn’s father, Lawrence Preston Gise, was a director for the United States Atomic Energy Commission who retired early so he could spend more time with his family in the ranch. Lawrence was very fond of Jeff, who would spend a lot of summers with him from that time he first saw his grandchild. Lawrence was among the few who first witnessed Jeff’s natural aptitude for understanding how things work—even as a toddler, Jeff was already engaging in mechanics by trying to dismantle his crib.
Seeing a lot of potential in his grandchild, Lawrence started to mentor Jeff in the field of technology, something that would greatly benefit Jeff for the rest of his life. During Jeff’s summer vacation, Lawrence would often take the young boy out in the fields and allow him to help laying pipes, fixing windmills, and vaccinating cattle.
But apart from teaching Jeff through fieldwork, Lawrence was also a role model and a father figure for the early years of Jeff’s life. Aside from his mother, it was through Lawrence that Jeff learned a great deal of kindness and compassion for other people; in fact, Jeff would later say that Lawrence taught him how “it is harder to be kind than clever.”
Adopted by Miguel Bezos
When Jeff was only four years old, Jacklyn met Miguel Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who moved from his home country to the United States when he was 15 years old to look for a better life. Miguel worked his way through life in the United States, studied in the University of Albuquerque, and earned his degree.
A few months after he met Jacklyn, Miguel fell in love with her, in spite of knowing that she already had a son. Miguel was willing to legally adopt the young Jeff and become a father to him, and soon afterwards married Jacklyn. After getting married, Miguel moved Jacklyn and Jeff to Houston, Texas, where he worked as an engineer for the company Exxon.
A Promising Inventor
Like Lawrence, Miguel saw the great potential in technology that was in the young Jeff. In several instances, Jeff exhibited his love for knowing how things work by rigging several electrical contraptions (a good example would be modifying an electric alarm so he could keep his younger siblings out of his room) around the house and turning his parents’ garage into a laboratory where he could continue to dismantle and learn more about the stuff in the house.
Instead of scolding his son for ‘messing’ with several things in the house, Miguel actually sympathized with Jeff and shared with him his passion for technology. Miguel helped develop Jeff’s interest in mechanics and technology, and encouraged his son to pursue interest in developing newer technology. When Jeff was in fourth grade, his father enrolled him at River Oaks Elementary School in Houston, where he stayed until his sixth grade.
Even at school, Jeff displayed his talents in making things. While most of his classmates were out playing, Jeff would be busy reading books on electronics or be spending time with Miguel, tinkering stuff. This developed Jeff’s skill in science and technology so much that he would win science fairs whenever they were held in his school, and got him featured in a book entitled “Turning on Bright Minds: A Parent Looks at Gifted Education in Texas,” which described Jeff as someone who was ‘friendly’ but ‘serious.’
Jeff did not know about his biological father until he was ten years old. By the time Miguel and Jacklyn told Jeff about his ‘real’ father, they were surprised at how much it never bothered the young Jeff at all. To Jeff, his real father was Miguel, who was the one who was always there and put in time and effort to nurture and care for him. In an interview made with Jeff many years later, he said:
“The reality, as far as I'm concerned, is that my Dad is my natural father. The only time I ever think about it, genuinely, is when a doctor asks me to fill out a form.”
After Jeff’s graduation from elementary school, Miguel brought him and the entire family to Miami, Florida. Jeff attended the Miami Palmetto Senior High School, where he was very well-known to his schoolmates as the ‘science guy.’ Jeff’s teachers often recall him telling them how he believed that the future of human kind was not on this planet—it was in space. He expressed his interest in becoming a space entrepreneur.
While in high school, Jeff’s love for tinkering devices began to focus more and more on computers, which were at that time becoming more popular due to the number of innovations that were done on them. In fact, he became so passionate with computers that when he attended the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida, he won the attention of the judges and received a Silver Knight Award. In order to fund his love for computers, Jeff started working part-time at McDonalds.
It was also during his high school years that Jeff started his first company, the Dream Institute, which was a summer camp for elementary students from the fourth to the sixth grade. The camp was a success, starting with six initial signups during its first run. Jeff graduated from high school as a valedictorian and got admitted to Princeton University to study college.
Initially, Jeff wanted to pursue a degree in physics, but he eventually realized that his love of computers was far greater. And so, Jeff took up electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton, where he was among the top and brightest students of the school. His teachers were astonished at Jeff’s amazing innovative skills, and often praised him for his intellect and creativity. Jeff graduated from Princeton summa cum laude, and earned his bachelor’s degrees in both majors. Aside from this, he was also elected to the honor societies of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi.
It did not take long after Jeff’s graduation for him to get a job. Right after leaving Princeton University, Jeff immediately found work with Fitel, a startup company in Wall Street, as the one who built and run the network used for the company’s international trade. Jeff was the number eleven employee at the company, and his work found him flying between New York and London every week. Eventually, Jeff decided to leave Fitel and look for new work. He stated in an interview regarding Fitel’s managing procedures: “This is not the right way to organize a start-up company.”
After leaving Fitel, Jeff applied at Bankers Trust, where he worked his way up to become the company’s vice president. While there, he was offered a partnership to start a news-by-fax service by Halsey Minor who later on founded CNET. It was a very tempting offer that Jeff almost left his work at Bankers Trust, but decided to stay with the company in spite of the great potential that it offered.
Sometime after rejecting the proposal offered by Halsey, Jeff eventually decided to leave Bankers Trust to work for D.E. Shaw & Co. hedge fund, where he handled the computer science division. Jeff was a star employee in the company that in just four years, he rose up the ranks and became D.E. Shaw’s senior vice president in 1990.
While working in D.E. Shaw and Co., Jeff also met Mackenzie, a fellow worker whom he immediately developed a connection to. In an interview made with him years later, Jeff related what he wanted in a woman for a wife:
“What I really wanted was someone resourceful. But nobody knows what you mean when you say, 'I'm looking for a resourceful woman.' If I tell somebody I'm looking for a woman who can get me out of a Third World prison, they start thinking Ross Perot - Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! - they have something they can hang their hat on! Life's too short to hang out with people who aren't resourceful.”
Fortunately, Jeff found these qualities in Mackenzie. After a few dates, their relationship further developed and eventually, the couple decided to get married. Mackenzie bore Jeff four children and currently works as a successful novelist.
Jeff’s life at this point was at an all-time high. He had a good paying job, the comfortable life, and best of all, the wife he dreamed of. To most of the people around him, he should be satisfied with his life, but to Jeff, he felt like there was still something else that he could do.
From the time he started working in D.E. Shaw & Co., Jeff saw the speedy rise of the World Wide Web, and through his amazing foresight, saw the great potential it offered to many businessmen around the world. Then it hit him—with the growing online community, this meant that one could connect to more people than his physical limitations could allow, and thus have more business prospects.
In addition to this realization, Jeff found out about the new United States’ Supreme Court ruling regarding online retailers that did not have to collect sales taxes in states where they did not have any physical presence. That, including the fast growing online community potential caused Jeff to make up his mind in leaving the company which brought him the luxurious life he was enjoying so he could venture into e-commerce business.
When D.E. Shaw & Co. found out about Jeff’s decision to leave the company to start his own business, they tried to talk him out of doing it. They cited all of the things that they believed would discourage Jeff from continuing his plans, but they never worked. Jeff had his mind set on his goal, and was fully convinced that this was what he really wanted. And even if he did fail, Jeff stated that he would have no regrets about it.
And so, in 1994, Jeff quit his job at D.E. Shaw & Co. and went with his family to Seattle, Washington, where Jeff and a few employees started to develop software in his garage. After a few weeks, Jeff expanded his operations into a house and eventually established a test site.
After receiving positive reviews from about 300 friends on the beta site, Jeff finally published the website Amazon.com, which was named after the longest river in the Western Hemisphere, on July 16, 1995. The first dealings were done at a nearby Barnes & Noble, which was quite ironic considering that both of them were in the bookselling industry.
Amazon.com becomes Huge
Jeff and a fellow employee named Shel Kaplan constructed a bell that would ring every time their website made a sale. They were not prepared for how popular Amazon.com would become to the public. Within a few weeks after its release, the site received so many visitors that they had to turn the bell off because it would not stop ringing due to the multitude of sales that the site was having.
In spite of having no press promotion, Amazon.com became very popular worldwide, that in two months it reached sales of over 20,000 a week. Realizing how powerful the site was in changing the way people thought of retailing, Jeff continued to improve Amazon.com to meet the customers’ needs and preferences.
In 1997, Jeff decided to publicize Amazon.com, in the midst of all the statements that told how it would not be a good idea. Many critics were questioning Amazon.com’s ability to sustain itself considering that the traditional retailers were setting up their own sites and had far better exposure compared to the site Jeff was managing.
Despite all the critical voices and the negative situations that surrounded him, Jeff never wavered in his decision and continued to promote his site. By 1998, Jeff diversified the items being offered on Amazon.com by including CDs, videos, clothes, electronics, and more by making partnerships with major retailers.
Investing in Space Business
Jeff’s decision to go public proved the critics wrong. By 1999, Amazon.com not only survived the crash that crippled the e-commerce community in 1997 and 1998, but it also emerged as a leader in the industry, with more visitors and members than all online stores of the established retailers combined. That same year, Jeff was named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year for bringing Amazon.com out of the e-commerce crash much better than it was before.
The following year, in 2000, Jeff made true his dream of becoming a space entrepreneur by founding Blue Origin, a human spaceflight startup company. Jeff designed the company to be a developer of ‘space hotels, amusement parks and other utilities’ that two or three million people orbiting the planet can use in the future. At the time of its founding, spaceflight companies were deemed to be ‘too futuristic’ and as a result, Jeff kept Blue Origin in the wraps until six years later, in 2006, when he finally launched the company by purchasing land in Texas.
Jeff encountered a life-threatening accident in 2003 when he was involved in a helicopter crash just a few miles from the future Blue Origin’s headquarters in West Texas. He was sitting in the front passenger seat, got pinioned when the pilot lost control of the helicopter, which made them crash in a creek. Josh Quittner, a reporter for Fortune magazine, described the accident:
“The helicopter was out of control and Jeff Bezos, the dotcom billionaire who founded Amazon, was pretty sure he was about to die. He was pinioned in the front passenger seat as the pilot frantically tried to thread the cherry-red copter through a field of trees. Instead, as the aircraft skittered along the field, its tail boom struck a tree, causing the aircraft to roll and zigzag crazily. Finally, one of the sleds hooked into a mound of dirt, the helicopter flipped, and landed in a creek.”
Fortunately, Jeff survived the accident and recovered. When he was asked what he was thinking during the moments prior to the crash, he simply answered, “I thought, what a dumb way to die.”
The Kindle Reader
After fully recovering from the accident, everything in Jeff’s life went up. His company, Amazon.com, kept on growing to such a point that it had become the largest online retailer in the world. In 2007, Jeff introduced the Kindle Reader, a handheld digital book reader that allowed its users to connect to Amazon.com, buy and store e-books and read them.
The product became a huge hit, and in 2011, Jeff entered the tablet pc making industry by refashioning the Amazon Kindle and renaming it the “Kindle Fire,” complete with all of the functionalities of a tablet pc. Jeff said of the Kindle Fire:
“We haven't built the best tablet at a certain price. We have built the best tablet at any price.”
A Respected Entrepreneur
From 2011 to 2012, Jeff continued receiving multiple awards as recognition for his outstanding entrepreneurship skills and his contributions to the growth and popularity of e-commerce. He received an Innovation Award along with Gregg Zehr from the Economist in recognition of their creation of the Amazon Kindle. He was also named the 2012 Businessperson of the Year by Fortune Magazine for all the success and achievements that his company was able to attain all these years.
In 2011, a report came out regarding Blue Origin’s failure of recovering a lost prototype vehicle while doing a test flight. Jeff stated in an interview regarding this:
“Blue Origin is one of several start-ups aiming to open up space travel to paying customers. Like Amazon, the company is secretive, but 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.”
Jeff also stated that while the accident was not something that he and his team was expecting, he already knew from the beginning that it would be a difficult task and that he was willing to put his time and effort to see this dream come to pass. More recently, Jeff has funded an expedition that recovered two Saturn V first-stage rocket engines that are believed to be part of the dropped rockets of the Apollo 11 mission.
One thing that can be said of Jeff is that he never quits. When he sees a potential, he goes for it. His amazing rise to fame and success is an inspiration to many of us to believe in the power of strong will and a made up mind. Today, Jeff continues in further developing his companies to suit the changing times—he is an excellent example of what it means to believe in your dreams.
Awards and Achievements
- 1982: Received a Silver Knight Award from the University of Florida
- 1999: Named as the Person of the Year by TIME Magazine
- 2008: Included in the list of America’s Best Leaders by the U.S. News & World Report
- 2011: Received the Innovation Award from The Economist Magazine (Amazon Kindle)
- 2012: Named the Businessperson of the Year by Fortune Magazine
- 2012: Included in the list of the Wealthiest People in the World by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index
- 2012: Named as the Best CEO in the World by the Harvard Business Review
- 2012: Included in the list of the 40 Richest People in the World by Forbes Magazine
- 2008: Honorary Doctor of Science and Technology from Carnegie Mellon University