Tuesday 26 March 2019

How Bezos’s parents early gamble on Amazon could be worth $30bn today

Amazon President, chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos
Amazon President, chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos

Tom Metcalf

It may be the most successful venture investment of all time.

In 1995, Jackie and Mike Bezos plowed $245,573 into their son’s fledgling ecommerce website, according to a prospectus two years later.

It was a big gamble, Mike Bezos, the stepfather of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, recalled onstage during a 2015 event at the National Constitution Centre in Philadelphia.

“I want you to know how risky this is,” the son told his parents, “because I want to come home at dinner for Thanksgiving and I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

He’s probably welcome to extra helpings of turkey – and all the gravy.

One IPO and three stock splits later, his parents’ stake could be worth almost $30bn (€25.6bn) today.

That would make them wealthier than Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the 30th-richest person on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The parents’ holdings haven’t been publicly disclosed since the end of 1999. While it’s unclear how much they still own, continuing donations of Amazon stock to their charitable foundation suggest they still control a healthy chunk of the world’s second-most valuable company.

They’ve donated 595,027 shares to the Bezos Family Foundation from 2001 through 2016, according to filings available on GuideStar, which collects data on non-profits.

The 25,000 shares they gifted in 2016 were worth about $20m at the time. The foundation focuses on education for young people.

If they haven’t sold or donated anything else, the pair would own about 16.6 million shares, or 3.4pc of the firm, making them the second-biggest individual owners after their son.

Their total return in that case would be about 12,000,000pc, a performance that would make even the most celebrated venture capitalists blush. SoftBank’s $20m bet on Alibaba has returned about 720,000pc since 2000, according to calculations by Bloomberg.

Sequoia Capital’s WhatsApp investment returned roughly 36,000pc by the time Facebook bought the messaging service for $22bn in 2014.

“We were fortunate enough that we have lived overseas and we have saved a few pennies so we were able to be an angel investor,” Mike Bezos, a Cuban immigrant who also goes by Miguel, said in Philadelphia. “The rest is history.”

He bought 582,528 shares in February 1995, according to the 1997 prospectus. Five months later, Jackie Bezos bought 847,716 shares.

The wider Bezos family held this stock through four trusts at the end of 1999, another filing shows.

The Jacklyn Gise Bezos 1996 Revocable Trust held 8.9 million shares, followed by the Miguel A Bezos 1996 Revocable Trust with 4.8 million shares, while the Bezos Family Trust and the Bezos Generation Skipping Trust held 2.9 million and 675,000, respectively.

Any self-respecting wealth adviser likely would have pressed the family to diversify their holdings given the “heightened consequences of such extreme individual company exposures,” according to Eduardo Gruener, co-founder of Miami-based multi-family office GFG Capital.

After applying historic selling patterns and accounting for the disclosed donations, Jackie and Mike Bezos would still control $10bn of shares, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That’s on top of their son’s $147bn fortune, which easily makes him the world’s richest person.




Amazon founder Jeff Bezos

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