They say there are no winners in a divorce, but no one could look at the outcome of the Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos saga and not declare one side has come out better than the other. The woman who helped her ex-husband build the Amazon empire is quietly thriving after the most expensive divorce settlement in history. In a blog post published on Tuesday, her first public statement since last April, MacKenzie Bezos made two announcements: since signing Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge in May 2019, shortly after her divorce was finalised, she has given more than $1.7bn of her fortune to charity. The second? She is dropping Bezos as a surname.
It was a clear statement of intent from the publicity-shy novelist who kept a low profile during her 25-year marriage to the tech mogul. MacKenzie Scott (her new surname taken from her grandfather) is emerging from the ashes of her high-profile marriage as a class act - all while her ex-husband lives out what appears to be a very public mid-life crisis, embroiled in an embarrassing legal scandal involving leaked intimate photos and whose record of charitable giving, despite his unimaginable wealth, has been criticised.
During the record-breaking division of Jeff and MacKenzie's $137bn fortune last year, the $38bn she received was described as a "payout". But this sells her role in the Amazon origin story short- she was no trophy wife. Raised in San Francisco the daughter of a financial planner and housewife, she met Jeff in 1992 when she was a 23-year-old Princeton graduate applying for a job at New York hedge fund DE Shaw. She had ambitions to be a novelist - her Princeton tutor Toni Morrison would later call her "one of the best students I've ever had in my creative writing classes" - but applied for the research associate job to pay the bills. Bezos turned out to be her interviewer. Working in the office next door to him, she says she fell in love with his laugh. After a few months of dating they were married. "I think my wife is resourceful, smart, brainy, and hot," Bezos told Vogue in 2013. "But I had the good fortune of having seen her resumé before I met her."
As the legend goes, the Amazon business plan was hashed out by Bezos on a road trip from Texas to Seattle in 1994 in the couple's Chevy Blazer, him crunching the numbers as MacKenzie drove. The first Amazon office was run out of their Seattle garage. She was the company's original accountant and helped coin the name Amazon. The initial name, Cadabra, was scrapped when a lawyer misheard it as cadaver. In 2013, when Brad Stone's book on the company The Everything Store, was released, MacKenzie wrote a scathing one-star review of it on Amazon, disputing many of his claims about the company's early days.
"I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others... in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centres, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon's history," she wrote.
As the company grew the couple fell into a traditional division of labour, MacKenzie's writing ambitions taking a back seat to the raising of their four children, three biological sons and a daughter adopted from China.
She published two novels while they were married, The Testing Of Luther Albright (2005) and Traps (2013), tapping away at a computer in a rented one-bedroom apartment near the couple's home in the quiet suburb of Medina, Seattle, before collecting the children from school in a Honda minivan - just the sort of faux-normcore lifestyle often favoured by ultra-wealthy tech families on the west coast.
Despite being married to the richest man in the world, as the introvert of the two she was reluctant to embrace the limelight, though she did walk the red carpet on a handful of occasions. She joined Bezos as a co-host of the Met Gala in 2012, where she wore a two-tone pink and red gown by Juan Carlos Obando. At one of their last public appearances as a couple, the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscars after-party, MacKenzie gave the movie stars around her a run for their money in a plunging scarlet dress.
In January 2019 the couple announced their divorce in a joint statement: "After a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends." But the peaceful nature of their split was shattered when the National Enquirer released a salacious 11-page story claiming that Bezos had been having an affair for several months with news anchor-turned helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez, publishing a series of leaked intimate text messages between the pair. Sanchez, who had split from her husband Patrick Whitesell in the autumn of 2018, had reportedly become close to Bezos after working with him on his private space company Blue Origin.
Bezos hit back in February in an extraordinary blog post - "No thank you, Mr Pecker" - where he accused National Enquirer owner David Pecker of extorting him by threatening to publish compromising pictures of the tech mogul if investigators hired by Bezos to find out if the story about his affair with Sanchez was politically motivated (Bezos owns The Washington Post, which had written disparaging articles about Donald Trump, while Pecker is a Trump ally) did not back off. But, in a sensationalist twist, a report earlier this year claimed it had been Sanchez herself who passed the texts to her brother Michael, who sold them to the Enquirer. He vehemently denies doing so and is now suing Bezos for defamation.
Amid all this drama, Bezos's understated ex-wife has kept a dignified silence. However, her one public statement in the May following the divorce - announcing her decision to sign the Giving Pledge - was viewed by some as a swipe at Bezos, whose charitable giving (or lack thereof) has attracted criticism. The Bill Gates and Warren Buffett initiative invites the world's richest to commit to giving at least half of their wealth away before their deaths. Of the five wealthiest people in America, Bezos is the only one who hasn't signed.
As Vanity Fair journalist Bess Levin wrote following MacKenzie's announcement: "MacKenzie Bezos subtly reminds the world her ex is an unrepentant cheapskate."
Although Bezos pledged $10bn in February to tackle climate change with his Bezos Earth Fund, his other charitable efforts have come under fire.
An Amazon Relief fund announced in March to support delivery drivers and Amazon partners during lockdown was slammed for its apparent call on the public to top up his workers' low pay. And in any case, his philanthropic efforts have been drowned out by the Hollywood drama of his personal life since meeting Sanchez and the indecent scale of his wealth - on Monday, July 20 he made $10bn in a single day.
Meanwhile, this week MacKenzie revealed the recipients of her first $1.7bn in donations- roughly a third of donations ($568m) have gone to racial equity organisations, followed by economic mobility ($399m) and gender equality ($133m).
"There's no question in my mind that anyone's personal wealth is the product of a collective effort, and of social structures which present opportunities to some people, and obstacles to countless others," she wrote. Are you listening, Bezos?