"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."
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.