The world's wealthiest man has fixed an official date to stop going to work. Amazon founder Jezz Bezos will be stepping down as the CEO on July 5, 2021. The current head of Amazon Web Services, Andy Jassy, will move into the corner office at the company headquarters in Seattle.
For Bezos, July 5 has immense 'sentimental' value as it was on this date in 1994 -- exactly 27 years ago – that he started Amazon in his garage as an online marketplace for books. Today, the company is valued at over $1.5 trillion selling everything sellable on the planet - from life-size inflatable crocodiles to french fry holders.
Most billionaire entrepreneurs rarely truly retire. They find an expensive hobby, chase passions with a renewed vigour, and more often than not, like an interfering but caring parent, continue to have a say in the empire they built from nothing. With Bezos, it is likely to be no different. He will become the executive chairman at Amazon on July 5 and the acquisition of Hollywood studio MGM for $8.45 billion to ramp up Amazon Prime video's catalogue may well be Bezos' last say as CEO.
Ever since Amazon announced in February that Bezos will step down this year, the founder has been selling his stake in the company for a post-retirement fund that allows him to take on his next big adventure - space. A tough challenge as Elon Musk waits in the other corner sporting a grin, relishing the contest that is yet to unfold.
The race to space between two of the richest men in the world turned sour as early as 2004. Both their rocket companies - Blue Origin and SpaceX - were yet to get off the ground. But it was Bezos, who dismissed Musk's idea of a reusable rocket and things went downhill from there. In the years that followed, they worked quietly in their backrooms, keeping out of each other's way.
In 2013, the spat resurfaced after Musk wished to be the sole private user of a NASA launchpad. Bezos protested only for his complaint to be called a "phony blocking tactic". In recent years, as the race to space turns intense, their battleground shifted to Twitter.
In a tweet last year, Musk called Bezos a "copy-cat" for acquiring the self-driving start-up Zoox for over $1 billion. In April this year, Bezos filed a complaint after NASA picked SpaceX for its manned mission to the moon, Musk trolled Blue Origin with a tweet and said, "Can't get it up (to orbit) lol". Surely, Bezos took this comment personally.
In May, the Amazon founder unloaded shares worth $6 billion over three weeks. In 2019, he sold $10 billion worth of stock and is using proceeds from equity sales to fund Blue Origin. On top of it, there are "philanthropic commitments" too. Bezos needs to fulfil his $10 billion promise made to the Bezos Earth Fund, which seeks to tackle climate change.
However, many wonder if Bezos would continue to feature among the world's wealthiest after relinquishing his throne at Amazon. To date, the biggest dent to Bezos' wealth has been his scandalous divorce from wife Mackenzie Scott, who received 4 percent stake in Amazon as part of the separation settlement.
That didn't affect his status as the world’s richest person. Also, Bezos received a salary of close to $2 million as Amazon CEO in 2020. For Bezos, that's spare change. He holds over 10 percent stake in Amazon and that's the true source of his estimated $180-190 billion mega fortune.
Last year, thousands of Amazon workers around the world stood in protest over wages and working conditions in warehouses. Some of the protesting workers led by a fired Amazon employee even occupied street fronts of Bezos' mansions in New York and Washington.
They said that Amazon - despite raking in billions in revenue during the pandemic – wasn't doing enough to protect workers from the killer virus. At the time, Amazon's share price surged 76 percent as the COVID-19 outbreak led to a surge in online sales. In 2020, Amazon posted a record performance with revenue rising 38 percent from $100 billion to $386 billion.
Stepping down from the position of CEO may help deflect some of the heat for angry workers, but now pro-tax campaigners are pulling up their sleeves to protest in front of his home. In addition, the Biden administration is planning to raise taxes on corporations and the uber-rich.
Bezos -- once an entrepreneur driving a 1996 Honda Accord, now coasting in a Bugatti Veyron or Ferrari -- may begin to frequently find a "Tax The Rich" placard thrust against his car window outside an event or catch a glimpse of a hoarding carrying his face with the wordings, "Tax Me If You Can".
However, after handing over the reins of Amazon, he would possibly prefer to be found cruising in calm waters on his new $500 million superyacht while looking up at the stars and dreaming of space travel.
First Published: IST