- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is stepping down as the company’s CEO.
- Bezos was among the few founders of major tech companies still running their “startups.”
- Here’s what the former founder-CEOs of Google, Microsoft, and other tech giants are up to now.
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.
Before the pandemic hit, Bezos had spent several years mostly focused on long-term projects. and said in his letter to employees Tuesday that he plans to shift that focus to “other passions” like his space startup Blue Origin, philanthropies (Day 1 Fund and Earth Fund), and The Washington Post, which he acquired in 2013.
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.
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.
Page and Brin stepped down as Alphabet CEO and President in December 2019, with then-Google CEO Sundar Pichai taking over, though both remain on the board. Page has since focused mostly on his investments in flying-car startups Zee.Aero and Kitty Hawk.
eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has invested in media, social impact fintech startups, and a basic income experiment.
Pierre Omidyar launched Auction Web, which ultimately became eBay, in 1995. The company eventually brought in Meg Whitman as CEO in 1998, and Omidyar stayed on the company’s board until September 2020.
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.
After leaving AOL’s board outright in 2005, Case launched a venture capital firm, Revolution, that has focused on funding startups outside of Silicon Valley. He has also launched a philanthropic foundation and chairs the board of the Smithsonian Institute.