Why it matters: Last week brought news that Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and CEO of Amazon, was divorcing his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos. The separation will likely see her entitled to half of Bezos’ assets, which means she could soon become one of Amazon’s largest shareholders.
Jeff Bezos owns almost 79 million, or 16.3 percent, of Amazon’s approximate 477 million shares. They make him the company’s biggest shareholder and are a large part of his $137 billion net worth.
But the Bezos’ divorce could see Jeff’s stake in the firm drastically reduced if he’s forced to give half of them to MacKenzie. An 8 percent stake would put her ahead of the company’s second-largest stakeholder, Vanguard, which owns 6 percent.
Washington State, where the couple lives and is home to Amazon's HQ, is a community property state, which means any assets and debts accrued during a marriage must be divided equally in the event of a divorce. As Amazon was founded after Jeff and MacKenzie were married, she could end up with half of her ex-husband’s shares.
If the couple does file in Washington State, which seems likely, it appears that the only way MacKenzie won’t walk away with a large stake in Amazon is if the couple had a prenuptial agreement. But according to TMZ, citing “sources with direct knowledge,” they did not.
There’s concern that Amazon’s stock price will tumble if MacKenzie opts to sell her shares, though she’s expected to hang onto them, which could give her a lot of power when it comes to voting on company policies.
“MacKenzie Bezos will get $66 billion in her divorce settlement with Jeff Bezos. This is the biggest transfer of wealth since Warren Buffett left his debit card at a McDonald’s drive-through.”@DesiLydic reports. pic.twitter.com/NCd1itEOPW— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) January 10, 2019
There are several things to remember here: in addition to whether or not the pair had a prenup, the decision on whether the shares are divided could come down to how a judge classify Bezos’ stock, and whether their increase in value was solely down to his work at Amazon. Additionally, even if MacKenzie gets them, Amazon may restructure to ensure that Jeff still owns enough voting power with his stock.
There’s also the possibility that the sharing of assets was agreed before the couple announced their divorce. The pair said the decision to separate was amicable and that they remain friends, but some tabloids claim Bezos was having an affair with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, which, if true, could see proceedings turn ugly.
Check out more of Jeff Bezos in our 'Drama, Drugs, and Data: A profile of 10 top tech CEOs' feature.