Amazon founder Jeff Bezos becomes richest man in modern history as wealth jumps to US$150 billion

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon two decades ago as an online bookseller, and it has mushroomed into one of the world's most valuable companies.
Jeff Bezos founded Amazon two decades ago as an online bookseller, and it has mushroomed into one of the world's most valuable companies. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST, AFP) - Jeff Bezos is the richest person in modern history.  The Amazon.com founder’s net worth broke US$150 billion in New York on Monday (July 16) morning, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

That’s about US$55 billion more than Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, the world’s second-richest person.  

Bezos, 54, has now topped Gates in inflation-adjusted terms. The US$100 billion mark that Gates hit briefly in 1999 at the height of the dot-com boom would be worth about US$149 billion in today’s dollars. That makes the Amazon chief executive officer richer than anyone else on earth since at least 1982, when Forbes published its inaugural wealth ranking.  

Bezos crossed the threshold just as Amazon prepares to kick off its 36-hour summer sales event, Prime Day. The company’s share price was US$1,825.73 at 11:10am in New York, extending its 2018 gain to 56 per cent and giving Bezos a US$150.8 billion fortune. 

His net worth has soared by US$52 billion this year, which is more than the entire fortune of Mukesh Ambani, the newly crowned richest person in Asia. It also puts Bezos’s personal fortune within spitting distance of the Walton family’s US$151.5 billion, which is the world’s richest dynasty.

“It’s hard to even put it in perspective,” said Michael Cole, CEO of Cresset Family Office. “It’s such a staggering number.”

 
 

A Federal Reserve report found the top 1 per cent of US families controlled 38.6 per cent of wealth in the US in 2016, compared with 22.8 per cent held by the bottom 90 per cent. 

Last year, Oxfam International found that more than 80 percent of earnings went to the top 1 percent of the world population.  

Behind Bezos on the Bloomberg index is Gates, with a US$95.5 billion fortune followed by Warren Buffett with US$83 billion.  

Gates would have had a net worth of more than US$150 billion if he’d held onto assets that he’s given away, largely to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s donated almost 700 million Microsoft shares and US$2.9 billion of cash and other assets since 1996, according to an analysis of his publicly disclosed giving. 

Historically, Bezos still trails other wealthy individuals such as oil magnate John D. Rockefeller and steel baron Andrew Carnegie, whose inflation-adjusted net worth would be more than US$300 billion.

Yet his rise has been nothing less than spectacular since 2014 when his fortune was estimated at around US$32 billion.

Bezos founded Amazon two decades ago as an online bookseller, and it has mushroomed into one of the world's most valuable companies. It features retail operations in more than a dozen countries, a major cloud computing division, and operations in digital devices, artificial intelligence, video streaming and groceries.

Amazon's market capitalisation his risen to nearly US$880 billion in recent weeks, ahead of that of Google parent Alphabet but behind Apple.

This week, Amazon marked its Prime Day, a 36-hour period with special discounts for its Prime subscribers, in several countries, touting more than one million deals worldwide. Amazon acknowledged some glitches with the sales day, saying some customers were unable to complete their orders.

Some customers complained they were directed to the "Amazon dogs" error pages featuring canine pictures. Still, Amazon said the day got off to a better start than last year.

Bezos, 54, also owns the private space exploration firm Blue Origin and purchased the Washington Post in 2013.