Amazon CEO and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos recently announced that he would be divorcing his wife of 25 years, McKenzie Bezos. The couple have been married since before Amazon was founded and have four children together. Mr. Bezos is reportedly currently dating the estranged wife of one of his social acquaintances. While Mr. and Mrs. Bezos claim to have separated amicably, the divorce still raises questions about the future of Amazon as a company.
Much of the Bezos’ wealth is tied up in shares of Amazon stock, which currently is valued at nearly $1,700 per share. Mr. Bezos is the largest shareholder, holding 16.3% of the company’s shares, and runs the company. Since Washington state is a community property state, there is a good likelihood that he will have to give his soon to be ex-wife half of his shares of Amazon. That would make her instantly the world’s richest woman, drop him to the world’s fifth-richest man, and raise the potential for internal strife within Amazon.
With so many shares, Mrs. Bezos would be able to have a say within Amazon, including potentially being able to appoint candidates to Amazon’s board. Or she could decide to sell her shares on the open market, diluting control of Amazon and potentially driving down its share price. Or she could offer to sell her shares (about 39 million) to the highest bidder, allowing someone to try to launch a hostile takeover of the company.
No matter what happens, Mr. Bezos will likely have to relinquish some amount of control over the company. If and when that happens, what will the result be? Will Amazon continue to assert its dominance over the online retail marketplace, or will some new upstart take advantage of the turmoil at Amazon to gain a foothold and eventually dethrone the current leader?