"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.
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."
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."