In December 2016, Donald Trump, then president-elect, invited about a dozen tech leaders for a meeting at Trump Tower in New York.
The group, which included Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google cofounder Larry Page, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, was recorded by press photographers who captured a row of unhappy-looking tech executives.
But for Trump, it was important to gain the approval of some of the most powerful executives in the world.
While attendees at the meeting put a positive spin on it – Bezos said afterward that the meeting was “very productive” – things had been strained between the tech world and Trump. Bezos had suggested shipping Trump off to space aboard a Blue Origin rocket, Apple had declined to fund the Republican National Convention because of Trump, and, according to The Times, Sandberg was still in shock following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump and barely spoke at the meeting.
Still, Trump was optimistic about working with Silicon Valley leaders during the meeting, according to The Times.
“You’ll call my people, you’ll call me. It doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “We have no formal chain of command over here.”
Soon after the riots, Silicon Valley delivered the ultimate condemnation of Trump’s policies: locking him out of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, a temporary measure that has been extended indefinitely.
After 27 years in charge, Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon CEO.
Over the last 16 months, Amazon experienced a surge in demand as the coronavirus pandemic forced people to shop online more than ever. And as Amazon’s stock has hit new highs, Bezos’ net worth has jumped as well: These days, he’s worth $199 billion, according to Bloomberg.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, however. Bezos began his career in the hedge fund world in the 1990s, then left a cushy job to launch his own startup that didn’t turn a profit for years. In 2018, he weathered a high-profile divorce scandal, and Amazon has faced scrutiny over how it treats its workers and the impact it has on the environment.
Here’s how Bezos got his start and built a trillion-dollar empire.
Allana Akhtar contributed to an earlier version of this story.
Jeff Bezos’ mom, Jackie, was a teenager when she had him in January 1964. She had recently married Cuban immigrant Miguel Bezos, who adopted Jeff. Jeff didn’t learn that Miguel wasn’t his real father until he was 10, but says he was more fazed about learning he needed to get glasses than he was about the news.
When Bezos was 4, his mother told his biological father, who previously had worked as a circus performer, to stay out of their lives. When Brad Stone interviewed Bezos’ biological father for Stone’s book “The Everything Store,” Bezos’ dad had no idea who his son had become.
His grandfather, Preston Gise, was a huge inspiration for Bezos and helped kindle his passion for intellectual pursuits. At a commencement address in 2010, Bezos said Gise taught him “it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
Bezos fell in love with reruns of the original “Star Trek” and became a fan of later versions too. Early on, he considered naming Amazon MakeItSo.com, a reference to a line from Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
After spending a miserable summer working at McDonald’s as a teen, Bezos, together with his girlfriend, started the Dream Institute, a 10-day summer camp for kids. They charged $600 a kid and managed to sign up six students. The “Lord of the Rings” series made the required reading list.
Meanwhile, Bezos was taking ballroom dancing classes as part of a scheme to increase his “women flow.” Just as Wall Streeters have a process for increasing their “deal flow,” Bezos thought analytically about meeting women.
In 1994, Bezos read that the web had grown 2,300% in one year. This number astounded him, and he decided he needed to find some way to take advantage of its rapid growth. He made a list of 20 possible products to sell online and decided books were the best option.
Bezos decided to leave D.E. Shaw even though he had a great job. His boss at the firm, David E. Shaw, tried to persuade Bezos to stay. But Bezos was already determined to start his own company – he felt he’d rather try and fail at a startup than never try at all.
“When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff,” he said later. “I knew when I was 80 that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of thing just isn’t something you worry about when you’re 80 years old.”
“At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event,” he added. “When I thought about it that way … it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”
And so Amazon was born. MacKenzie and Jeff flew to Texas to borrow a car from his father, and then they drove to Seattle. Bezos was making revenue projections in the passenger seat the whole way, though the couple did stop to watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.
In the early days, a bell would ring in the office every time someone made a purchase, and everyone would gather around to see whether anyone knew the customer. It took only a few weeks before it was ringing so often they had to make it stop.
Bezos is known for banning PowerPoint presentations at Amazon. Instead, he requires his staff to turn in papers of a specific length on their proposals to encourage critical thinking over simplistic bullet points.
Bezos is also known for creating a frugal company culture that doesn’t offer perks like free food or massages.
In 1998, Bezos became an early investor in Google. He invested $250,000, which was worth about 3.3 million shares when the company went public in 2004. Those would be worth billions today (Bezos hasn’t said whether he kept any of his stock after the initial public offering).
In January 2017, Bezos purchased the Textile Museum, a pair of mansions in Washington, D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood. The property sold for $23 million and is the largest in Washington. He’s currently spending $12 million to renovate the place.
Bezos also owns four apartments at 212 Fifth Avenue in New York City. His most recent purchase in the building was last April, when he paid a reported $16 million for a three-bedroom unit, bringing his total real estate holdings in the building to nearly $100 million.
In February 2020, Bezos became the new owner of the Warner estate, a sprawling compound in Beverly Hills, California, that he reportedly purchased for $165 million. A few months later, Bezos added to the compound with an adjacent house worth $10 million.
In August 2017, Amazon officially acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. The Amazon influence became immediately clear: Customers who are Amazon Prime subscribers can get 10% of sale prices, and you’ll see some Amazon branded items offered, including tech products like the popular Amazon Echo line.
In January 2019, Bezos and his wife of 25 years, novelist MacKenzie Bezos, announced they were divorcing. “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,” the couple wrote in the statement. “If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again.”
Shortly after the Bezoses announced their divorce last January, news broke that Bezos was dating TV host and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez.
At the time, the National Enquirer said it had conducted a four-month investigation into Bezos and Sanchez’s relationship and had obtained texts and explicit photos the couple had sent to each other.
Almost immediately, questions arose about the Enquirer’s motives for investigating Bezos and Sanchez and the tabloid’s connection to President Trump — Bezos immediately launched an investigation into who had leaked his personal messages.
Then, in February, Bezos dropped a bombshell of his own: an explosive blog post titled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker,” in which he accused Pecker and AMI of trying to blackmail him. As a result, Bezos published the emails he’d received from AMI.
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.
The Bezoses announced on Twitter they had finalized the term of their divorce in April 2019. MacKenzie retained more than $35 billion in Amazon stock, making her one of the world’s richest women.
During the coronavirus outbreak, Amazon saw a surge in demand as more people were forced to shop online. Amazon created more jobs and raised pay for workers, but Bezos and the company faced scrutiny over worker safety during the outbreak.
The company is also facing antitrust concerns, particularly the company’s practices when it comes to third-party sellers on its platform. Bezos and other major tech CEOs will testified in front of Congress at the end of July 2020.
After the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Bezos was outspoken about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, publicly shaming customers who sent racist emails about his and Amazon’s support. In an Instagram post, he posted a screenshot of a customer email and described the man as “the kind of customer I’m happy to lose.”
In recent months, Bezos and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk have seen their respective net worths spike. The two moguls have flip-flopped for the spot of world’s richest person, though it appears Bezos is staying on top with a fortune worth nearly $200 billion.
“Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming,” Bezos wrote. “When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else.”
Bezos said that while he will still be involved in important initiatives at Amazon, he plans to spend more time on philanthropy — including the Bezos Earth Fund and his Day 1 Fund — as well as his two other major endeavors: the Washington Post, which he purchased 2013, and his rocket company, Blue Origin.
Bezos’ next adventure won’t take place on planet Earth. On July 20, he’ll take an 11-minute voyage to the edge of space aboard a Blue Origin spacecraft. He’ll be accompanied by his brother, Mark; a mysterious bidder who bought the seat for $28 million; and Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator who trained to go to space in the ’60s but was ultimately denied the opportunity because she was a woman.
Jeff Bezos started Amazon in his garage in 1994 as a way to sell books online. In 26 years as its CEO, he transformed the company into a behemoth in ecommerce, web services, logistics, robotics, groceries, AI, media, and more.
On Tuesday, Bezos said he will step down as CEO in the third quarter of 2021, passing the reins to Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy and taking a backseat as executive chairman of Amazon’s board of directors.
Bezos’ plans track closely with those of other high-profile tech founders who ran, and eventually left, their own startups-turned-tech-giants to pursue pet projects and philanthropic endeavors.
He was also one of the few remaining founder-CEOs of a generation of tech companies born in the past 50 years that played major roles in bringing computers, the internet, ecommerce, and social networking to the masses. That shrinking crowd still includes Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey, and Netflix co-CEO and cofounder Reed Hastings.
But Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others have since bid farewell to the founders who had led their companies for years. Here’s what those tech icons are up to now.
Apple cofounder Steve Jobs died in 2011.
After Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in 1976, the company had a long line of CEOs. Jobs was eventually ousted after a failed board takeover in 1985, before returning in 1996 with a successful board takeover, eventually transforming the struggling company into the $2.3 trillion giant it is today.
Wozniak, who left Apple in 1985 but is still technically an employee and is paid $50 per week, has since started multiple companies. Most recently, he launched a cryptocurrency business that helps companies raise money for eco-friendly projects, according to CNBC.
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates is working on global health initiatives through his philanthropy.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen cofounded Microsoft in 1975, and by the time Gates stepped down as CEO in 2000, he had helped build the company into such a dominant player in the tech industry that it became the subject of one of the biggest antitrust cases ever.
Gates stayed on the company’s board until March 2020, when he said he would focus full-time on his philanthropic work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates has pledged to give away a majority of his wealth within his lifetime — though he and 75% of signatories of the “Giving Pledge” have actually become wealthier since signing on.
Google cofounder Larry Page is working on secretive flying-car startups.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in 1998, and Page led the company until 2001, when Eric Schmidt was brought in as “adult supervision.” But Page stepped back in as CEO in 2011 and eventually became the CEO of its parent company Alphabet in 2015, working mostly on “moonshot” projects and recruiting talented people.
After leaving day-to-day operations at eBay, Omidyar — a Hawai’i resident — started a local investigative journalism outlet, the Honolulu Civil Beat, and founded First Look Media, a digital journalism company that owns The Intercept. He also launched a $300 million fund to back social impact-focused fintech startups, and has given to a range of philanthropic causes, including basic income and pandemic response.
AOL co-founder and CEO Steve Case got into venture capital and philanthropy.
America Online, known to most people as AOL, was founded from the ashes of its short-lived predecessor, Control Video Corporation, by Jim Kimsey, Marc Seriff, and Steve Case.
Case ran AOL from 1991 until 2001, when the company completed its — ultimately ill-fated — merger with Time Warner, becoming chairman of the combined company until resigning that position in 2003 amid criticism from investors.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Elon Musk and Larry Ellison. Jeff Bezos and Barry Diller.
What do all these high-profile pairings have in common? They’re all close friendships within the world of tech.
Silicon Valley may be known for its competitive spirit, but it’s also fostered several years-long friendships among some of its most famous executives. Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett, for example, have been buddies for nearly 30 years. And Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff have been friends for decades, even though their respective enterprise software companies are technically rivals.
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has several close pals in tech, including friends he’s defended online or taken for Tesla test drives.
Here’s a closer look at some of the friendships among tech CEOs.
Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey
While it’s not clear if Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey actually hang out in real life, they do seem to have a solid virtual friendship.
Oracle founder Larry Ellison and late Apple CEO Steve Jobs were friends for 25 years before Jobs’ death in 2011.
Ellison and Jobs used to be neighbors in Woodside, California, and the pair often went hiking together. It was during one of those hikes that Ellison helped Jobs plot how to regain control of Apple after he was ousted — Ellison even suggested buying Apple himself and installing Jobs as CEO.
It was Jobs who came up with the idea that Apple should acquire his company, Next, instead. When Ellison questioned how the pair would make money, Jobs said to him, “Larry, this is why it’s so important that I’m your friend. You don’t need any more money,” Ellison said in a commencement speech in 2016.
Elon Musk has been friends with the cofounders of Google for a long time.
In the early days of Musk’s tenure at the electric car maker, he took Brin and Page on a test drive. Unfortunately, a software bug prevented the car from going any faster than 10 miles per hour, Musk recounted at a company shareholder meeting in 2016. Despite “the world’s worst demo,” however, the duo ended up investing in Tesla anyway, Musk said.
“It’s fun for the three of us [including Google cofounder Sergey Brin] to talk about kind of crazy things, and we find stuff that eventually turns out to be real,” Page told Ashlee Vance, who wrote a 2015 biography about Musk.
Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff
Ellison and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff met when Benioff began working at Oracle when he was 23. He was a star early on, earning a “rookie of the year” award that same year and becoming Oracle’s youngest VP by age 26. He spent 13 years at Oracle, during which he became a trusted lieutenant to Ellison.
The pair became such close friends that rumors swirled about their relationship’s backstory — people wondered if they were related, or if Ellison had been Benioff’s childhood babysitter. Ellison and Benioff took trips together, sailed on Ellison’s yacht, and went on double dates.
Benioff began working on Salesforce with Ellison’s blessing, and Ellison became an investor, putting in $2 million early on.
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates met in 1991 when Buffett was invited over to Gates’ mother’s house. Neither man was very interested in meeting the other, but they ended up hitting it off. Soon after, Gates asked Buffett for a business book recommendation, and Buffett loaned him his copy of “Business Adventures” by John Brookes — Gates still has it today.
Since then, the duo has done everything from play table tennis together to participate in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual newspaper toss competition. And Gates, his wife Melinda, and Buffett launched the Giving Pledge together in 2010, vowing to give away the majority of their wealth in their lifetimes or in their wills.
Ellison and Musk appear to be two of the friendliest CEOs in tech, if their relationships with Benioff and Jobs, and Page, Brin, and Dorsey are any indication. So it’s not much of a surprise that the two moguls are “very close” friends with each other, too.
“Drew brings valuable perspective to our board as a leader of a technology company with services used by millions of people and businesses,” Zuckerberg said in a statement at the time. “He thinks deeply about where technology is going and how to build a culture that delivers services that always work well.”
Kevin Systrom and Jack Dorsey
Instagram founder Kevin Systrom and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey started out as close friends, but it’s hard to tell where they stand these days.
According to the book “No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram” by Sarah Frier, the pair met when they were early employees at Odeo, the audio and video site created by eventual Twitter cofounders Ev Williams and Noah Glass. Dorsey expected to dislike Systrom when he joined as a summer intern in the mid-2000s, but the pair ended up bonding over photography and expensive coffee.
Systrom and Dorsey stayed in touch even after Systrom got a full-time job at Google — he was an early proponent of Twitter (then known as Twttr), and when Systrom was working on Burbn, the precursor to Instagram, he reached out to Dorsey for guidance. Dorsey ended up becoming an early investor, putting in $25,000. When Burbn pivoted to Instagram, Dorsey became one of the app’s biggest fans, cross-posting his Instagrams to Twitter and helping the app go viral soon after it launched. Dorsey eventually attempted to buy Instagram, but Systrom declined, saying he wanted to make Instagram too expensive to be acquired, according to Frier.
But the Dorsey-Systrom relationship appeared to have soured in 2012, when Dorsey found out through the grapevine that Instagram had signed a deal to be acquired by Facebook, Twitter’s biggest rival. According to Frier, Dorsey was hurt that Systrom hadn’t called him to discuss the deal, or to negotiate one with Twitter instead.
Dorsey hasn’t posted to his Instagram account since April 9, 2012, when he snapped a photo of an unusually empty San Francisco city bus — according to Frier, it was taken the morning he found out Instagram had sold.