Now Bezos is turning to new challenges, giving up his role as chief executive of the technology giant to focus his energy on other business and philanthropic ventures.
Now 57, Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 and went on to grow it into a colossus that dominates online retail, with operations in streaming music and television, groceries, cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence and more.
Bezos announced Tuesday he would transition to executive chair at the company he founded more than 26 years earlier and hand over the job of chief executive to Andy Jassy, who heads the cloud computing unit AWS.
“This journey began some 27 years ago,” Bezos said in a letter to Amazon employees.
“As much as I still tap dance into the office, I’m excited about this transition,” he wrote.
In announcing the news, Bezos said he would remain engaged at Amazon but also devote time to his other businesses include The Washington Post newspaper and the private space firm Blue Origin.
He also will concentrate on his philanthropy efforts which include his Day One Fund and the Bezos Earth Fund, to which he made a $10 billion donation last year.
“I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have,” he wrote.
The move by Bezos comes after his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott had seized the spotlight in the philanthropic arena by pledging to give away the majority of her wealth to social causes, starting with nearly $6 billion last year to a variety of organizations chosen with the help of advisors.
Jeff Bezos’s stake in Amazon gives him a personal worth of some $196 billion, making him the world’s richest individual, ahead of Tesla founder Elon Musk who briefly held that distinction.
The stunning rise of Amazon has come amid a rapid global expansion and taking risks with its investments and innovation.
“It is hard to believe that Mr. Bezos only founded the company some 26 years ago,” said analyst Neil Saunders of the research firm GlobalData.
“Into that short period has been crammed a whole lifetime of innovation and entrepreneurship which have transformed not only the company’s fortunes but the whole shape and configuration of the retail sector.”
“Its relentless focus on the customer and its constant pursuit of finding better ways of doing business made it not only a survivor but a leader of the internet age.”
In the headlines
Bezos has been in the headlines in recent years not only for his business success, but for his 2019 divorce from MacKenzie, his wife of 25 years, and a blackmail attempt which he decided to make public.
He stood up to the National Enquirer, controlled by then-president Donald Trump’s ally David Pecker, who threatened to release lurid, intimate pictures of Bezos and his mistress, by making details of the exchanges public himself.
“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?” Bezos wrote on Medium.
Road to riches
Bezos’s penchant for experimenting reportedly dates to a young age — with one widely shared story recounting how he tried to dismantle his own crib as a toddler.
His mother was a teenager when she gave birth to Bezos in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 12, 1964.
She remarried when her son was about four years old, and he was legally adopted by his Cuban immigrant stepfather who worked as an engineer at a petrochemical company.
“My dad came here from Cuba all by himself without speaking English when he was 16 years old, and has been kicking ass ever since,” Bezos said in a Father’s Day tweet.
Bezos was enchanted by computer science when the IT industry was in its infancy and he studied engineering at Princeton University.
After graduating, he put his skills to work on Wall Street, where by 1990 he had risen to be a senior vice president at investment firm D.E. Shaw
But about four years later he surprised peers by leaving his high-paid position, backed by money borrowed from his parents, to open an online bookseller called Amazon.com.
Looking back at the journey so far, he offered this advice in his parting letter to staff: “Keep inventing, and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy.”