Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie are getting divorced, and it could be the most expensive one in history.
MacKenzie Bezos, wife of Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, may soon be known as the world’s richest woman.
The couple, married in 1993, on Wednesday announced their plans to divorce after a separation. “As our family and close friends know, after a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends,” read their co-signed statement posted on Jeff Bezos’ Twitter feed.
MacKenzie Bezos, 48, is a novelist and philanthropist and, based on their statement, plans to remain involved in business, too. The couple said in the statement they foresee “wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures.”
She grew up in Northern California and graduated from Princeton University. There, she served as a research assistant to famed novelist Toni Morrison, who won the Pulitzer Prize for 1987’s “Beloved” and the Nobel Prize in 1993.
Bezos was “one of the best students I’ve ever had in my creative-writing classes … really one of the best,” Morrison told Vogue in a 2013 profile of Bezos, who released her second book “Traps” that year.
In her 2005 debut novel, “The Testing of Luther Albright,” for which she won an American Book Award, Bezos “captures the extraordinary in the ordinary, revealing a startling talent for naturalism,” said Publishers Weekly at the time.
Bezos, then MacKenzie Tuttle, met her future husband when he was the first person she interviewed with for a job as a research associate at management investment firm D.E. Shaw in New York City. They married in 1993, six months after she asked him out to lunch, according to a Business Insider profile of their marriage.
“My office was next door to his, and all day long I listened to that fabulous laugh,” she told Vogue. “How could you not fall in love with that laugh?” She began her campaign to win him over by suggesting lunch.
A year later, they moved to Seattle to found Amazon, where she became an accountant and one of the first employees for the then-internet bookseller. Until five years ago, she dropped Jeff Bezos off at work in their Honda after they took their four kids to school, the Business Insider profile says.
Now, MacKenzie Bezos, who has released no individual statement since Wednesday’s Twitter announcement, could be granted up to $67 billion in a divorce settlement. That could perhaps make her the world’s richest woman, surpassing Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, who controls 33 percent of L’Oreal, the world’s leading beauty company, and ranks No. 11 on Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index at $45.7 billion.
But it’s not that clean and simple. Washington state divorce courts seek an equitable distribution in which, in this case, the non-billionaire spouse is rewarded “enough,” not half, said Carolyn Grimes, a partner at law firm Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Leischner in Alexandria, Virginia, who has experience with high net-worth divorces.
She cites the divorce of then-General Electric chairman Jack Welch and then-wife Jane Beasley Welch, who had sought $130 million of his $450 million net worth. The couple settled out of court in 2003 with her getting less than half of his net worth.
In this case, “I would think they would structure something that could give her a good chunk of change,” Grimes said.
Jeff Bezos may liquidate some stock, and MacKenzie Bezos will likely get Amazon “super stock,” she said. But they both want to avoid a stock fight because “they don’t want to send the stock down,” Grimes said.
MacKenzie Bezos’ direct involvement in the company will factor into the settlement, said Emily Pollock, a partner in the matrimonial and family law department at the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres in New York City. And so will any indirect involvement she had in the rise of Amazon, she said.
The stories about her driving him to work daily suggest “a real family image” that might suggest she was “really an equal partner with him,” and, if true, could result in her getting “something closer to a 50-50 (distribution), as opposed to 20 percent (distribution),” Pollock said.
“The more she can show that she was instrumental directly … and the more she can show that her contributions indirectly to bolster him and allow him to be the powerhouse businessman that he turned into, the better off she will be in terms of arguing that a fair and equitable distribution would be a larger percentage for her,” she said.
Although MacKenzie Bezos joined Jeff Bezos in announcing the $2 billion Day One Fund last year — a year after the Amazon CEO sought advice on ways he could make a difference — she has also gone solo as a philanthropist.
In 2014, she founded anti-bullying organization Bystander Revolution, where she is executive director. The goal of the group is to spread knowledge about “practical things individuals can do to help defuse bullying,” the site says.
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