Jeff Bezos keeps Amazon voting power in divorce settlement


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos arrive for the Axel Springer award ceremony on April 24, 2018. On Jan. 9, 2019, it was announced that Bezos and his wife will divorce after 25 years. (Jorge Carstensen/DPA/Zuma Press/TNS)

BENGALURU: Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos will retain voting control of his entire US$143bil stake in the company under a divorce settlement with his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, who will own 25% of those shares, the couple said on Thursday, removing uncertainty over control of the online retailer.

The world’s richest couple had announced their impending divorce in a joint Twitter statement in January, causing some to worry that Jeff Bezos could wind up with less Amazon voting power or that he or MacKenzie would liquidate large positions.

â??It takes the issue off the table, with less turbulence than you might have expected,â?‌ said an investor, whose company owns several million dollars worth of Amazon shares but who asked for anonymity because of a firm policy.

MacKenzie Bezos will wind up with a stake in Amazon that is worth roughly US$36bil. Her shares represent a 4% stake in Amazon, according to a regulatory filing by the company. The Amazon shares will make her the world’s third-richest woman while Jeff Bezos will remain the world’s richest person, according to Forbes.

The couple, who tweeted separately on Thursday, disclosed that under their settlement MacKenzie will give up her interests in the Washington Post, which Jeff Bezos bought in 2013 and which has been a frequent target of criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump, and the rocket company Blue Origin he founded in 2000.

“Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff,” MacKenzie Bezos said in her tweet outlining the agreement, the first and only post from an account created this month.

The two did not provide any further financial details about the settlement.

“INFLUENCE WOULD BE THE SAME” 

Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, said in the filing that 4 percent of its outstanding shares would be registered in MacKenzie Bezos’ name after court approval of the divorce, which is expected to occur in about 90 days.

The petition for divorce was filed in Washington state, a person familiar with the matter said.

Jeff Bezos, whom Amazon listed in its most recent proxy statement as its single largest shareholder with a 16.3 percent stake, will keep sole voting authority over the shares unless MacKenzie donates them to a nonprofit or sells them in the open market.

Amazon shares closed down 0.1% at US$1,818.86.

Jeff Bezos, 55, is seen as essential to Amazon’s meteoric growth and stock price rise since he founded the company as an online bookseller in 1994. He has credited MacKenzie, 48, for her support when he uprooted the young couple to Seattle from New York to launch Amazon.

“When I think about Amazon, and the influence Bezos has on Amazon, I would argue his influence would be the same if he had 51 percent shares outstanding or 1 percent. I think his influence is dictated by his vision for Amazon,” D.A. Davidson analyst Tom Forte said.

MacKenzie Bezos’ stake in Amazon is worth more than the market values of nearly 70% of the components of the S&P 500.

The settlement suggests that Amazon will be spared the kind of boardroom battle that has plagued other companies whose owners are dealing with family rifts, even though the divorce had jolted the once-private Bezos couple into the public spotlight.

Jeff Bezos re-tweeted MacKenzie’s statement and added in a separate post that he was grateful ”for her support and for her kindness in this process,” Liat Sadler, a San Francisco matrimonial lawyer, said the settlement should put investors at ease.

"?They'?ve done a lot of work behind the scenes to make their breakup as amicable as it seems,"?‌ she said. 

Still, Sadler added, “Without knowing what cash she received, I have no idea how favorable it was to him or not.” 

The day the couple announced their separation on Twitter, the National Enquirer promised to reveal an affair by Jeff Bezos that it claimed had ended their marriage, contrary to the couple’s statement that they were on a ”long period of loving exploration and trial separation.” 

The US tabloid then published alleged photos and intimate text messages between Bezos and his new partner, former television news anchor Lauren Sanchez. – Reuters

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