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12 January 2024

The average dreams of Jeff Bezos

On his 60th birthday, few men are richer, and even fewer are doomed to be so normal.

By Esther Watson

Fixed to the front of Koru, the largest yacht in the world, is the Norse goddess of love, war and gold: Freyja. The figurehead, described by the sailing authorities at the Daily Mail as “curvaceous”, is an eccentric choice to steer the $500million vessel, but perhaps not an unsurprising one, given that Jeff Bezos is the owner. 

Bezos, who turns sixty today, has had a hell of an ascent since he was born in Albuquerque in 1964 to a seventeen-year-old high school student. He was abandoned by his biological father and then adopted by his mother’s second husband, a Cuban immigrant who fled Fidel Castro’s communist regime alone as a teenager. Bezos then became, for a brief moment between 2017 and 2020, the richest man on earth.

That year the average full-time Amazon employee made $37,930 in 2020. In order to accumulate as much money as Bezos ($172 billion), the New York Times estimated that an employee would have had to start working in the Pliocene Epoch (4.5 million years ago, when hominids had just started standing on two feet). Bezos was adding roughly $149,353.12 a second to his wealth every second. If you just focused on his wealth alone, to the exclusion of everything else that swirled around him, you could call him the American Dream. 

Bezos’s origins from the Southern States, to Princeton, to Wall Street, to the titan of internet commerce are well-known, but what does the future look like for the man who may yet become the world’s first trillionaire? Answering that question isn’t easy. In public Bezos is usually as closed as a clam. 

In the rare interviews that he does give, Bezos often talks about how he makes decisions to minimise his chances of having regrets when he’s looking back at his life aged 80. It was this “regret minimisation framework” that saw him quit his Wall Street hedge fund job and take a chance on an online commerce business. How this framework played into his decision to divorce MacKenzie Scott, his wife of twenty five years, isn’t known. 

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Bezos spends a lot of time thinking about his life. There’s every indication that he sees this stretching beyond eight decades. Consider that he has invested heavily in a business called Altos Labs, which seeks to “ultimately prolong human life”. What exactly is Bezos hoping to prolong? To answer that question, we must turn to his fiance, Lauren Sanchez. 

His relationship with Sanchez confirmed one of the few things we really understand about Bezos. Thirty years ago he was a nerd. In this century that chrysalis fell away, and out stepped Jeff Bezos, alpha male. 

In February 2019, when he was threatened by the National Enquirer, who leaked the news of what was then an extra-marital affair with Sanchez, and claimed to have ‘below the waist’ photographs of him, Bezos responded in a Medium post in which he outed the publication for attempting to blackmail him.

“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail… and corruption”. It was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate he would not kowtow to those who tried to intimidate him. He would stand his ground and he would win. Publish or be damned was the vibe. The lesson? Bezos always wins.

Post-divorce his days of wearing anoraks and peeling around in a Honda Civic (Bezos drove one in 1999 despite being worth $10billion: “it’s a really good car”) are long gone. It used to be chic in Silicon Valley to keep your wealth to yourself. Mark Zuckerberg in his flip-flops. Bill Gates telling interviewers that his mother bought his clothes… 

No longer. Zuckerberg is building a survive-the-apocalypse hideout on a tiny Hawaiian island (where Pierce Brosnan is his neighbour), while Gates cannot stop talking about how many billions he drives into philanthropic projects – even while his wealth continues to increase. Then look at Bezos: he spends his time bulking up in the gym, hanging out with Oprah and the Kardashians in Hollywood, “looking for solutions to heal our world” with King Charles and venturing into space dressed as a cowboy. What would Andrew Tate do with several hundreds of billions of dollars? Perhaps Bezos gives us an answer. Trade a sports car for a space rocket, and buy America’s second most respected newspaper.

Is this simply the best that money can buy? Or is Bezos doing something quite ordinary: having a midlife crisis? Perhaps Bezos demonstrates what a man does once all his dreams come true. Get divorced; buy shiny things. While it is now common for billionaires to venture into space, Bezos’s galactic motivations seem to be driven by a faintly spurious desire for adventure – he has crossed every financial frontier after all – it’s now time to cross into outer space. Other people would just go to DisneyLand, wouldn’t they? 

It’s no accident that we know so little about the man behind Amazon. On the rare occasions we have gained  much more than a glimpse it never seems to end well. Returning from his space mission in 2022, Bezos thanked “every Amazon employee…because you guys paid for all of this”. A thank you? They might have appreciated better pay and working conditions.

Compared to other contemporary tech billionaires there seems less interest in Bezos as a person. No Hollywood blockbuster depicting his phenomenal rise to success like there was for Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. He attracts far, far less criticism than Elon Musk. Maybe the last word can be left to Freyja – the figurehead stuck to Bezos’ yacht is, after all, the perfect replica of Lauren Sanchez.

Does she call Bezos an innovator? A genius? Nah. He’s just a “really goofy guy”.

[See also: Ricky Gervais is turning into David Brent]

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