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Bezos known for his unusual forays

August 06, 2013|Andrea Chang
  • founder Jeffrey Bezos' decision to buy the Washington Post has stunned media watchers and technology analysts. founder Jeffrey Bezos' decision to buy the Washington… (Victoria Bonn-Meuser /…)

Jeffrey Bezos is best known for founding Inc. and pioneering online shopping, so his purchase of the struggling Washington Post newspaper stunned media watchers and technology analysts alike.

Although Bezos, 49, is an active backer of several oddball endeavors -- among them unearthing old rocket engines from the bottom of the ocean and developing a futuristic clock -- most of his previous investments have gone toward creating new technologies, not reviving ailing industries.

Bezos founded Amazon in 1994, when he was 30, and initially ran it out of his Seattle-area garage. The website debuted the next year as a place to buy books online, but it soon expanded to other products and services with Bezos at the helm as chief executive.

By pushing a Web-only model, Amazon changed the way people shop and, with the invention of the Kindle e-reader, the way they buy and read books. He was named Time magazine's person of the year in 1999.

Along the way, Bezos accumulated a massive fortune, estimated at $25.2 billion this year by Forbes, which listed him No. 19 on its billionaires list. Amazon is now the world's largest online retailer.

That wealth has allowed Bezos to pursue a wide range of interests through his personal investing arm, Bezos Expeditions, and in recent years he has become one of the most visible and ambitious investors among high-tech chief executives.

He is working on a "10,000 Year Clock," which would keep time for 10,000 years, inside a remote mountain in West Texas, and this year he helped recover F-1 rocket engines, used in the NASA's Apollo program, from the Atlantic Ocean.

Bezos has also invested in several tech start-ups, including Twitter, Uber, Airbnb and ZocDoc, and is the founder of aerospace company Blue Origin, which is developing technologies to enable private human access to space at a lower cost.

"As I see it, humans are now technologically advanced enough that we can create not only extraordinary wonders but also civilization-scale problems," Bezos said on his blog. "We're likely to need more long-term thinking."

Born in Albuquerque, Bezos graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science. He and his wife, MacKenzie, an author, were married in 1993. They have four children. They have been active with political donations, giving millions to support gay marriage rights.

Before founding Amazon, Bezos worked at various jobs in finance and tech, including hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co.

Bezos has not said what he intends to do with the Washington Post, which he bought for $250 million. He purchased the newspaper and other related properties on his own, without involvement from Seattle-based Amazon.

At Amazon, he developed a reputation as an innovator and an intense micromanager. Bezos sought to quickly deflect worries that he would meddle with the Post's coverage. He wrote a lengthy letter to the newspaper's employees Monday in which he said, "The values of the Post do not need changing."

"The paper's duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners," he said. "We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we'll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely."


Twitter: @byandreachang

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