WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, and wife MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage, the couple said on Twitter on Wednesday (Jan 9).
Mr Bezos, 54, has a fortune that has soared as high as US$160 billion (S$216 billion) thanks to his stake in Amazon, which again became Wall Street’s most valuable company this week, surpassing Microsoft.
Mr Bezos has credited his 48-year-old wife for her support when he uprooted the young couple from New York to Seattle so he could launch the online bookseller that grew into one of the world’s largest retailers. Mrs Bezos, a Princeton graduate who is now a novelist, did accounting for Amazon for its first year after it was founded in 1994.
The couple decided to divorce after a long period of “loving exploration” and trial separation, and expect to continue as partners in ventures and projects, according to the joint statement.
Amazon shares were up 0.2 per cent in midday trading on Wednesday. The divorce should have no material impact on the company and its shares, said Thomas Forte, an analyst at DA Davidson & Co.
According to Refinitiv Eikon data, Mrs Bezos does not hold any Amazon shares directly. Mr Bezos has a 16.1 per cent stake in the company worth about US$130 billion.
Ms Liat Sadler, a San Francisco matrimonial lawyer, noted that spouses owe a fiduciary duty to one another.
“They have duties not to waste or devalue marital resources, and to keep the value of marital property as high as possible,” she said.
“I don’t think there is an issue of concern for shareholders as to what will happen to Amazon because of the divorce.”
Ms Sadler said the main options facing the couple regarding Amazon stock were for Mr Bezos to buy out his wife or for her to retain shares.
“If she trusts that he would manage Amazon well, either he should pay her for her share of the stock, or they could enter a more complicated agreement where she keeps stock and he keeps voting rights,” she said.
It is unlikely that many details of the divorce will become public, New York lawyer Bernard Clair, who is representing Mrs Judith Giuliani in her divorce from former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, said.
“These two have been separated for a not insignificant time, and I would assume... they would have used the time to reach a private, confidential agreement,” Mr Clair said.
Reuters was unable to determine any further financial details of the planned divorce.
Amazon did not immediately return requests for comment about the status of the Bezos ownership stake or what impact the divorce might have on the company.
Mrs Bezos met her husband when interviewing for a job at a New York hedge fund, according to a 2013 profile in Vogue. The two were engaged after three months of dating and married three months after that, according to the magazine. They have four children.
Speaking at an event in Berlin last April, Mr Bezos said his wife’s support was instrumental when he founded Amazon.
“When you have loving and supportive people in your life, like MacKenzie, my parents, my grandfather, my grandmother, you end up being able to take risks,” he said at the event.
Mr Bezos in September committed US$2 billion through the Bezos Day One Fund to helping homeless families and starting pre-schools for low-income communities. He had solicited ideas on Twitter in 2017 for ways to donate some of his wealth.
Last January, the couple donated US$33 million to fund college scholarships for US high schoolers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) status, an Obama-era programme protecting young immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
In 2012, they donated US$2.5 million to a Washington state campaign to legalise same-sex nuptials there.
From modest beginnings, Amazon branched out into almost every product category, taking on established retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores.
In November, Amazon picked America’s financial and political capitals for massive new offices, branching out from its home base in Seattle with plans to create more than 25,000 jobs in both New York City and just outside Washington DC.
Mr Bezos also founded space company Blue Origin in 2000, and is funneling US$1 billion a year of his own fortune into pulling it out of start-up mode and into production.
He also owns The Washington Post, which has been a target of criticism from US President Donald Trump.