Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, holds the 8.9-inch version of the new Amazon Kindle HDX tablet computer.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, holds the 8.9-inch version of the new Amazon Kindle HDX tablet computer.

BIG READ: Nothing can stop world’s richest man

JEFF Bezos is obsessed with exploration and wading into the unknown.

In addition to being a hardcore Star Trek fan and founding a billion-dollar aerospace firm to enable private space travel, the world's richest man has named many of his limited liability companies after European explorers.

Adventurers like Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and John Cabot, who sailed in pursuit of a New World, are commemorated in the myriad corporate entities that swirl around Amazon, the massive online retailer that Bezos, 54, started in 1994 in a suburban Seattle garage.

With the announcement last week that the e-commerce juggernaut had chosen Long Island City as one of its new headquarters (along with Arlington, Virginia), the maverick entrepreneur - who Forbes estimates to be worth $US162 billion ($AU221 billion) - may be heading into uncharted territory.

Already, New Yorkers are bitterly divided over the $US2.5 billion ($AU3.4 billion) package of taxpayer subsidies and incentives that Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio used to lure the corporate giant to a gritty corner of Queens.

The area will feature a sprawl of new Amazon corporate offices, and possibly a helipad, at a time when the city is faced with many urgent infrastructure problems, such as a subway system in desperate need of repair.

But Bezos, who worked on Wall Street for years after graduating from Princeton in 1986, seems unflappable, and no stranger to the vagaries of life in New York City.

"Bezos has proved quite indifferent to the opinions of others," said Brad Stone in his 2013 book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

According to Stone, Bezos "is an avid problem solver, a man who has a chess Grandmaster's view of the competitive landscape".

He also has a steely determination. In 1993, Bezos quit a well-paying finance job, eschewing his corporate bonus at New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. to move to Seattle with his writer wife MacKenzie, determined to create the world's largest online bookstore.

Amazon took shape a year later and is now a corporate empire.

In addition to his runaway success with Amazon, whose value hovers at $US1 trillion ($AU1.36 trillion), Bezos also owns Whole Foods, The Washington Post and space company Blue Origin.

He seems unstoppable.

"He has vast ambitions - not only for Amazon, but to push the boundaries of science and remake the media," said Stone.

And now with Amazon set to establish itself in New York, Bezos and his family - he and MacKenzie have three sons and a daughter they adopted from China - just might spend more time on the Upper West Side, where he has long owned four sprawling condos at 25 Central Park West on the 19th and 20th floors of the 32-story building.

He bought three of the units - 19N, 20N, and 20 M - in 1999 from music executive Tommy Mottola under a corporate entity called Jetima LLC, public records show. In 2012, Jetima added 19M, a 157sq m unit in the art deco building for $US5.3 million ($AU7.2 million), property records show.

If past behaviour is any indication, Bezos is set to become a Manhattan gadfly, hosting dinners at the city's trendiest restaurants with local elites from the worlds of science, arts and politics.

He is also expected to indulge in more popular pursuits, such hitting food trucks - a culinary passion - in all five boroughs.

Jeffrey Preston Bezos was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 12, 1964.

His mother, Jacklyn Gise, was 17 and in high school when she got pregnant. Bezos' father, Ted Jorgensen, was a year older and completing high school.

Jeff Bezos in 2005 holds a copy of 'Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies' by Douglas Hofstadter — the first book sold online by Amazon.com. Picture: Ted Warren
Jeff Bezos in 2005 holds a copy of 'Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies' by Douglas Hofstadter — the first book sold online by Amazon.com. Picture: Ted Warren

Although they married just before the baby's birth, the couple only stayed together 17 months before they divorced, according to Stone.

A few years later, Jacklyn married Miguel Angel Bezos Perez, a Cuban immigrant who arrived in the US as a 16-year-old refugee and went on to work as an engineer for Exxon.

Miguel adopted Jeff, who grew up in Houston and Miami, where Bezos was Palmetto Senior High School's valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar.

While still in high school he participated in a science training program at the University of Florida and received the Silver Knight Award, which recognises academic excellence and community service, in 1982.

Bezos has credited his stepfather for encouraging his scientific pursuits, and being a loving parent.

"As far as I'm concerned, I only have one dad and he's my real dad," he told The Guardian.

Following high school, Bezos initially enrolled at Princeton to study physics but later changed to computer science and electrical engineering.

Years later, when his mother and stepfather agreed to invest in what would become Amazon, Bezos warned them, "I want you to know what the risks are, because I still want to come home for Thanksgiving if this doesn't work."

The couple gave Bezos $US100,000 ($AU136,615) for the start-up, and have seen their investment rise exponentially over the years. Today, they are reportedly worth more than $US30 billion ($AU41 billion).

Bezos is very close to his parents and younger half-siblings, Christine and Mark. Earlier this year, he told a German interviewer that he goes on annual vacations with his wife, siblings and their spouses while his parents look after all of the grandchildren.

Although the family has collectively amassed a huge fortune, the Bezos Family Foundation gave out only $US23,480,257 ($AU32,077,467) in contributions, mostly to schools and universities across the country, in 2016, according to the latest available federal tax filings.

The non-profit's directors include parents Jacklyn and Miguel, their children - Jeff, Christina and Mark - in addition to MacKenzie, Mark's wife, Lisa, and Christina's husband, Stephen Poore.

The Bezos family has been criticised in the past for their relatively paltry commitment to philanthropy.

By comparison, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose net worth hovers at $96 billion ($AU131 billion), doled out nearly $5 billion ($AU6.8 billion) in donations in 2016 through the non-profit he runs with his wife, tax filings show.

But in September, Bezos sought to rectify the imbalance, and took to Twitter to announce that he and MacKenzie were setting aside $US2 billion ($AU2.7 billion) to finance a new non-profit, the Day One Families Fund, which would help the homeless and set up a network of Montessori schools in impoverished communities.

The charity is national in scope, and with Amazon being headquartered in New York, the city is expected to be part of the group's largesse.

Despite his work overseeing Amazon and its more than half a million employees, Bezos never schedules early morning meetings so that he can spend time with his family, often making breakfast for his four children.

"I like to putter in the morning," Bezos told a gathering of the Economic Club of Washington, DC. "So I like to read the newspaper. I like to have coffee."

He also insists on getting eight hours of sleep every night and enjoys washing dishes after family dinners.

"I'm pretty convinced it's the sexiest thing I do," he once told an interviewer.

The entrepreneur is also devoted to his novelist wife, whom he married in 1993 just before he started Amazon, and who supported her husband's business by initially working as an accountant for the start-up. He has been known to take an entire day off to read her finished manuscripts in one, uninterrupted sitting.

"Jeff is my best reader," MacKenzie, 48, told Vogue in 2013.

Like her husband, MacKenzie attended Princeton, although the two did not meet until they found themselves working for the same hedge fund in New York. She took a creative writing course with Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, who called MacKenzie "one of the best students I've ever had in my creative-writing classes … really one of the best".

Later, Morrison introduced MacKenzie to mega literary agent Amanda "Binky" Urban.

Her debut novel, The Testing of Luther Albright, about a Californian electrical engineer who tries unsuccessfully to control the world around him, was released in 2005 and picked up an American Book Award from the educational non-profit Before Columbus Foundation.

Unlike her husband, MacKenzie admitted that she doesn't enjoy being in the spotlight. "Jeff is the opposite of me," she told Vogue. "He likes to meet people.

"He's a very social guy. Cocktail parties for me can be nerve-racking. The brevity of conversations, the number of them - it's not my sweet spot."

Bezos loves trendy restaurants and has been photographed leaving Craig's in West Hollywood. He also likes to shop, especially for his wife, who has said she is most comfortable in jeans and T-shirts. Bezos has been known to bring home designer handbags and stylish clothes.

In 2012, when her husband was an honorary chair of the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute gala, MacKenzie took to the Manhattan red carpet in a Juan Carlos Obando floor-length red and fuchsia gown, while her husband appeared in a Tom Ford tuxedo.

Over the years, Bezos has undergone a radical makeover, going from computer nerd dressed in button-down shirts and loose gabardine trousers to muscled internet executive in designer sunglasses, sneakers and blue jeans. With his bald pate and toned arms, Bezos now resembles a thinner version of the actor Vin Diesel.

In addition to spending more time in New York, Bezos and his family will likely also spend more time in Washington, where he can be close to the other Amazon headquarters in Arlington, Virgina, and his interest in The Washington Post.

When Bezos bought Post for $US250 million ($AU341 million) in 2014, he made a commitment to hanging out in the city. (He also has palatial homes in Beverly Hills, Seattle and two in Texas.)

In 2016, he plunked down $US23 million ($AU31 million) in cash for a former textile museum in Kalorama, the Washington neighbourhood where the Obamas live, and where Jared and Ivanka Trump also have a home.

The 2508sq m abode is currently undergoing a $US12 million ($AU16 million) renovation, which is designed with a great deal of space for entertaining.

Architectural plans, which were made public earlier this year, show a sprawling property equipped with three kitchens, five living rooms and a ballroom. It will also include 11 bedrooms, 25 bathrooms and two elevators.

In Washington D.C., Bezos is often spotted without his $US1.6 million ($AU2.1 million) security detail, holding court with Washington Post executives at tony eateries such as Le Diplomate and Fiola Mare, according to an April report in The Washingtonian.

When his newspaper won a Pulitzer for a series of articles on police shootings in 2016, Bezos took staff members to the private dining room at upscale Cafe Milano to celebrate their victory.

A member of staff places a completed order onto the conveyor belt in the packing area at the Amazon Fulfillment Centre on November 14, 2018 in Hemel Hempstead, England. Picture: Leon Neal
A member of staff places a completed order onto the conveyor belt in the packing area at the Amazon Fulfillment Centre on November 14, 2018 in Hemel Hempstead, England. Picture: Leon Neal

"He seemed genuinely interested in our coverage and how we did it," a reporter told The Washingtonian. "He has the humility to know when he doesn't know what you're talking about."

But it's said that Bezos' greatest passion is conquering space. He considers his work with Blue Origin, which he finances to the tune of $US1 billion ($AU1.3 billion) a year, his most important pursuit.

Like fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Richard Branson, Bezos is intensely involved in an international space race, working from a rocket testing facility in West Texas and offices in Seattle. In the last year, Blue Origin began gaining profitable government contracts.

Other than watching Star Trek - Bezos had a cameo in the film Star Trek Beyond in 2016 - and taking his kids on submarine adventures, Bezos is busy pondering the future of civilisation itself.

"I'm pursuing this work, because I believe if we don't we will eventually end up with a civilisation of stasis, which I find very demoralising," he recently told an interviewer.

"I am very lucky that I feel like I have a mission-driven purpose with Blue Origin that is, I think, incredibly important for civilisation long term. And I am going to use my financial lottery winnings from Amazon to fund that."

 

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was republished with permission.



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