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.