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The Bezos Divorce: Splitting The World’s Most Valuable Company

People

"Steve and Elaine Wynn´s 2010 $1 billion divorce settlement, the largest to date, will likely pale in comparison once the split between Jeff Bezos and his soon-to-be-ex MacKenzie is finalized.


Bezos just shared the news of his imminent divorce in a tweet, adding that he and his wife of 25 years “remain a family and... remain cherished friends." The message was signed, “Jeff & MacKenzie" and everything points to an amicable split, rather than a nasty battle which might cause their fortune and legacy to suffer.

“We've had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures," wrote the Bezos, who have four children together, including one adopted from China.

Though there are rumors that Jeff has been seeing another woman, both MacKenzie and he realize that the effect of an ugly and public fight could have an immense value reduction result to their companies. Like many other divorcing film stars, sports figures, and high visibility personal brands, they are well aware of the perilous prospect of any potential public airing of their intimate laundry.

Counting Billions

With a net worth estimated at $137 billion, Bezos can surely afford an expensive divorce, but the problem will be for the attorneys and accountants when they are faced with the question as to how much Bezos' most successful creation, Amazon, is worth. What is the most valuable company in the world worth? It would overwhelm the court system just to argue over the company's value and the rest of Bezos' many holdings and financial interests around the world.

Whatever Amazon's price tag might be, the Bezoses will have to share it, due to the fact that Washington State is a community property jurisdiction. This means that the fortune amassed during the marriage is communal property.

Considering Jeff founded Amazon a year after he married MacKenzie, the assets in question are something to reckon with. She might, in fact, receive a staggering $66 billion, based on Amazon's current valuation and the amount of stocks owned by Bezos. In this scenario, it would be a shock if she should get anything under tens of billions.

Depending on that figure, Bezos might be forced to sell part of his ownership of Amazon in order to pay for his divorce. If that happens, he might no longer be in control of the company. But, how much is Amazon worth without Bezos' vision and guidance? Probably not the same as with him on board…

If MacKenzie doesn't want to kill the chicken that lays the golden eggs, it is likely that she will settle for an amount that doesn't compromise Bezos' control of the e-commerce giant, or come up with a payment plan that allows him to keep guiding Amazon's future.

Billionaire divorces are much that same as for the rest of us. The hurt and pain are just the same, the same laws apply; the only difference is the scale and value of an equitable distribution. Certainly, more lawyers and more accountants and tax advisors are usually involved, but the rest can be quite similar to any other divorce.

Hot Startups and Divorce

There are numerous examples of messy tech billionaire divorces. Silicon Valley has seen many fierce battles over ownership of some of the largest global companies. When FarmVille billionaire Mark Pincus, who was one of the first to invest in Twitter and Facebook, split from his former wife Alison, his $1.28 billion fortune was at stake. In spite of the existence of a prenup, Alison asked the court to nullify it, because her husband's finances had changed so dramatically during the marriage.

In the unique landscape of today's tech billionaires, with massive wealth, complex assets, and alpha personalities, many are opting for prenups, but Bezos, who married a quarter of a century ago, reportedly didn't have one. And although he could have implemented a post-nuptial prenup at some point, that was not the case. Others, like Snapchat billionaire Evan Spiegel, were more careful. When Spiegel decided to tie the knot with model Miranda Kerr, his attorneys presented her with an ironclad prenup to secure his $4 billion fortune.

Without a prenup, any billion-dollar divorce might go South. But while many billionaires and mega celebrities might have the inclination to fight a fierce battle, in the case of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, my forecast is for a mostly turbulence-free split.

The Bezos Legacy

Yet, conflicts might still arise. I believe the most complex negotiations will come down to two things: the family's philanthropy and the actual valuation of an immense asset mosaic. On the philanthropy front, these heavily moneyed individuals will have to make important decisions about their now-separate legacies and contributions to society. At this level, they are not fighting about who will pay for the kids' college or who will get the Hamptons house. Bezos v. Bezos will likely come down to what MacKenzie wants for her legacy, her philanthropy, rather than merely her lifestyle.

While some high-net-worth divorces can end a career or completely ruin someone's prospects. Surely, this is not going to be the case for either Bezos or his wife. After all, this is the man who said, “It's not an experiment if you know it's going to work."

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