The richest man in the world has come a long way since he launched Amazon in 1994.
11 min read
In 1994, the then 30-year-old Jeff Bezos left behind a six-figure gig on Wall Street as the youngest ever senior vice president at investment banking firm D.E. Shaw & Co. to start Amazon in Seattle. Now, he’s the richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $151.5 billion at time of writing.
The Amazon co-founder and CEO is also a fan of outer space and started Blue Origin to explore it. Bezos isn’t afraid to try new things, like when he bought The Washington Post back in 2013.
On Jan. 9, 2019, he and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, announced they are divorcing.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) January 9, 2019
To get more insights into the man, read on for 31 weird facts about Jeff Bezos.
Related: Jeff Bezos Just Posted This Weird, Kind of Badass Video of Himself on Top of a Wind Turbine
To boldly go where no man has gone before
Bezos is a huge Star Trek fan and has said that Alexa was inspired by the pop culture icon. He even had a cameo as an alien in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. Plus, Amazon was almost named MakeItSo.com after the catchphrase of Next Generation’s Captain Picard.
Larger than life
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He made an appearance on The Simpsons in a 2008 episode where he and Mark Cuban (also playing himself) hang out with fellow billionaire Mr. Burns at Billionaire Camp.
One small step for man
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Bezos is fascinated by the Mercury and Apollo era of NASA — so much so that he funded and went on an undersea expedition to retrieve remnants of Apollo rockets.
Living the dream
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He is living his childhood dream. He founded his space tourism company Blue Origin in 2000, decades after he told his friends and teacher that he wanted to be a “space entrepreneur” when he grew up.
Getting some shuteye
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Bezos doesn’t use an alarm clock and tends to get eight hours of sleep. No burning the midnight oil for this CEO.
Look to the future
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Bezos has always had an eye on the future. According to The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Brad Stone’s biography of the CEO, when he was a toddler, Bezos dismantled his crib with a screwdriver because he wanted to sleep in a bed.
Behind enemy lines
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It’s probably cold comfort to Barnes & Noble that while Bezos was launching Amazon and wanted a break from his garage, he would frequent the local location in Bellevue, Wash.
Kids and more kids
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Adoption is a big part of his family story. When Bezos was very young, he was adopted by his stepfather Miguel Bezos. Bezos has four children with his ex-wife Mackenzie: three sons and one daughter, who was adopted from China.
Working on the farm
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Bezos spent summers when he was growing up on his maternal grandfather’s cattle ranch in Texas, where he did odd jobs such as fixing windmills. His grandfather worked for DARPA in the 1950s on space technology and was the manager of the Atomic Energy Commission’s office in Albuquerque, N.M.
He’s come a long way
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When he was a teenager, he had a job as a McDonald’s fry cook and started a small summer camp for elementary schoolers called the DREAM Institute.
Taking in the sights
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On the drive to Seattle to launch Amazon, Bezos made sure to stop at the Grand Canyon along the way.
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According to a Wired profile from the late 1990s, Bezos had eccentric standards for women that he would date. “The number-one criterion was that I wanted a woman who could get me out of a Third World prison,” he said.
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The Albuquerque native attended Princeton, where he studied electrical engineering and computer science. In 2011, he donated $15 million to the school to build a center that would study neurological disorders.
Unsurprisingly, Bezos is a voracious reader. His favorite novel is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Putting customers first
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Have a question or complaint for the man at the top? Just drop a line to email@example.com. When the email lands in his inbox, Bezos forwards the note to the employee who is best equipped to handle the request with “?” in the subject line. Once the the issue is dealt with, the team member sends a rundown of what happened to Bezos so he knows the problem was solved.
Bezos has talked a great deal about his experience working on his grandfather’s ranch when he was a child, and it seems that his agricultural background has influenced where he puts his money. Bezos has invested in a vertical farming startup called Plenty. The company grows its crops on 20-foot towers equipped with LED lights, and the crops don’t need soil or sunlight. Thanks in part to the Amazon founder’s investment, Plenty is on track to set up 300 vertical farms in China.
Though Amazon is a behemoth today, it started small, and Bezos had to be frugal and strategic in the beginning — right down to office furniture. In order to get inexpensive desks for himself and some of the earliest employees, he constructed them himself using wooden doors and planks. Those desks became something of a tradition, and Bezos and many employees are using a variation on those original desks more than 20 years later. According to a recent blog post, Amazon even created the Door Desk Award to honor “well-built ideas that help deliver low prices to customers.”
Keep it simple
As frugality is one of Amazon’s central tenets, it’s unsurprising that while Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest man, even after he became a billionaire, his personal transportation choices remained somewhat down-to-earth. When the company went public in 1997, he didn’t drop a ton of cash on a fancy new car. Instead, he traded in his 1987 Chevy Blazer — which he used in the early days of the business to make post office delivery runs himself — for a Honda Accord.
Related: 5 Creative Interview Questions to Ask Job Applicants, Approved by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Reid Hoffman
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Bezos actually had a near-death experience in 2003 when he was looking for the right plot of land to test out Blue Origin’s rockets. On a scouting tour in Texas, his helicopter crashed, and he sustained minor injuries. He recovered, but don’t expect to see him travel via helicopter again any time soon. “Nothing extremely profound flashed through my head in those few seconds. My main thought was, ‘This is such a silly way to die,'” Bezos told Fast Company in 2004. “It wasn’t life-changing in any major way. I’ve learned a fairly tactical lesson from it, I’m afraid. The biggest takeaway is: Avoid helicopters whenever possible! They’re not as reliable as fixed-wing aircraft.”
Early to the Google party
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Less than five years after founding Amazon, Bezos made an early investment that was a sign of his ability to identify the next big thing. He staked a reported $1 million in Google in the late 1990s. Even if Amazon hadn’t taken off in the way that it did, that bet would have more than paid off in the long run.
Did we just become best friends?
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Soon after the release of one of Dwayne Johnson’s action movies in 2018, Bezos revealed himself to be one of The Rock’s biggest fans.
Thanks to a social media exchange between the two that ended in an invite from Johnson to Bezos to meet up for dinner, we learned that the CEO edited this year’s Amazon shareholders letter from his couch, accompanied by a giant stuffed panda. And he takes nerdy selfies in front of movie posters just like the rest of us.
It seems that it was only a matter of time before Bezos and Johnson became friends, both being bald family men who have made a not-so-slight impact on the culture at large. Clearly, they have a lot in common.
Very comfortable on my kids’ giant panda doing email and putting final touches on this year’s annual shareholder letter. About to take the kids to see Rampage… pic.twitter.com/OrmMpV4VGj
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) April 15, 2018
Haha brother the love and admiration is mutual. Mahalo to you and the kids for seeing RAMPAGE. Drinks and dinner on me one day soon please.
And kindly walk into your next shareholder’s mtg with that bad ass smolder ??? https://t.co/M0OYiQjha3
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) April 16, 2018
All about the numbers
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Even when he was in middle school, it seems that Bezos was continually thinking of ways that everyday processes could be improved — right down to the performance of his teachers. According to The Everything Store by Brad Stone, as part of a project for math class, an 11-year-old Bezos created a ranking for all the teachers who taught sixth grade at his school. It wasn’t to rate how well-liked they were, but how effective they were at teaching. He distributed the survey to his classmates and then graphed the results to find the best educator.
To the stars, out of pocket
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In order to keep Blue Origin up and running, Jeff Bezos annually allocates $1 billion worth of Amazon stock to the aerospace company. It’s a drop in the bucket for someone with a net worth of more than $150 billion, but in an interview, Bezos shared that the opportunity to explore worlds beyond our own was his top priority. He said Blue Origin was “the most important work I’m doing … I don’t want my great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren to live in a civilization of stasis.”
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Bezos currently has a net worth of more than $150 billion, a sum that makes him richer than any other person alive. The next person on the list is Microsoft co-founder and Washington State neighbor Bill Gates.
Not always on top
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While Bill and Melinda Gates devote the majority of their time to philanthropy, it was noted in 2017 that of the top 10 billionaires in the world, Jeff Bezos was ranked last when it came to charitable giving.
Innovation runs in his family
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Bezos isn’t the only one in his household who can think big. Recently, his four kids decided to get a little creative with Amazon hardware and affixed an Echo onto an iRobot Roomba with a significant amount of blue painter’s tape. While the construction may not be completely sound, the idea is something of a mind meld. According to a Bloomberg report, Amazon is currently at work on its own home robots.
His parents got in on the ground floor
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From the get-go, Bezos’ mom and stepdad were supportive of his entrepreneurial dream, so much so that they invested $245,573 in Amazon to help get it off the ground. It was a decision that paid off. Depending on how much of a stake his parents have in the company today, they could be worth nearly $30 billion.
With Honor Fund
While in the past Bezos has not opted to get involved in politics, while they were married, he and his former wife Mackenzie donated $10 million to a non-partisan super PAC. The With Honor Fund aims to help elect military veterans, both Democratic and Republican, to Congress.
All in the timing
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At a September 2018 event in Washington, D.C., Bezos revealed that getting eight hours of sleep a night is key for his focus. He said he will never schedule a meeting before 10 a.m. and does his best to make major calls for the company before 5 p.m.
Rule of three
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At the same event, Bezos talked about his approach to decision-making. “If I have three good decisions a day, that’s enough,” Bezos explained. “They should just be as high-quality as I can make them.”
The customer comes first
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When Bezos was figuring out how to expand beyond books, he decided to reach out to a random selection of 1,000 people and asked what they wanted to buy from Amazon. He recalled that the responses varied, but what they had in common was that they were things they needed to buy at that moment. “I thought to myself, ‘We can sell anything this way,’” Bezos said.