Jeff Bezos is about to defend his Amazon empire before Congress. Here's how the richest person in the world makes and spends his $178 billion fortune.

  • Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person alive, is now richer than he's ever been.
  • Bezos made his fortune from online retail giant Amazon, but has drawn increasing criticism over the company's size and is slated to defend it at a Congressional tech antitrust hearing on Wednesday.
  • Bezos pledged to spend $10 billion to fight climate change in February and promised $100 million to food banks in April.
  • Bezos was the first person in modern history to accumulate a fortune of over $100 billion — and he currently has a net worth of $178 billion, Bloomberg estimates.
  • He spends his fortune on real estate across the US, a $65 million Gulfstream Jet, and his space exploration company, Blue Origin.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The richest person in history is set to defend his online retail empire in front of Congress Wednesday.

The historic anti-trust hearing comes as Bezos' net worth hits new highs — $178 billion, according to Bloomberg's latest estimates. The billionaire's net worth surge comes alongside a boost in Amazon's share price, which has soared despite the coronavirus pandemic that's upending the American economy. And Bezos' agreement to surrender 25% of his Amazon stake to his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott in a divorce settlement last year ultimately didn't slow down the growth of his wealth much either.

While Bezos has added $63.6 billion to his net worth in 2020 alone, per Bloomberg estimates, the coronavirus crisis has been an economic disaster for the rest of America, as an unprecedented 49 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in recent months.

Bezos isn't the only billionaire getting richer during the pandemic. Tesla's Elon Musk and Zoom's Eric Yuan both saw their net worths grow by more than $2 billion between March and June, Business Insider previously reported.

From real estate to space travel, here's how Bezos spends his money.

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, the source of much of his wealth, on July 5, 1994.

Source: Bloomberg

Bezos' parents were reportedly shocked that he would give up a cushy Wall Street job in order to sell books over the internet.

Source: "The Everything Store" via Business Insider

Bezos' parents eventually came around and invested about a quarter of a million dollars in the fledgling company, a stake that would be worth as much as $30 billion today.

Source: Bloomberg

Bezos also received a lot of support from his then-wife MacKenzie, who negotiated Amazon's first freight contract and did the company's accounting. Per the terms of their 2019 divorce settlement, MacKenzie holds a 4% stake in the company, which forms the majority of her $59.3 billion fortune.

Source: Bloomberg

Amazon made its initial public offering on May 15, 1997. Since that day, the split-adjusted stock price has increased over 153,000%

 

Amazon's rise left several early internet competitors in the dust. In the company's first post-IPO shareholder letter, Bezos mentioned strategic partnerships with several peers like America Online, Prodigy, and Yahoo that have either gone out of business entirely or been purchased by competitors in the years since.

Source: Business Insider

Amazon has steadily grown over the last two decades, and now sells a wide variety of consumer products, electronics, and digital media.

Source: Amazon

Another big growth area was Amazon Web Services. As of February 2018, the company's cloud services was a $17.5 billion business.

Source: Business Insider

Amazon has also grown through various acquisitions over time. The company's 2009 purchase of online shoe retailer Zappos for $1.2 billion stood as Amazon's biggest acquisition for about eight years.

Source: Visual Capitalist

That record was blown out of the water with Amazon's 2017 purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.

Source: Visual Capitalist

The Whole Foods acquisition has dramatically boosted Amazon's push into the grocery world. A 2019 study from OneClickRetail estimates that Amazon had an 18% share of the US online grocery market.

Source: Business Insider

Amazon's rise is the primary source of Bezos' fortune. Bezos remains Amazon's largest stockholder, owning 11% of the e-commerce giant. According to MacKenzie Bezos' statement on the couple's divorce, Bezos retained 75% of the couple's Amazon stock holdings and the voting power of MacKenzie's shares.

Source: Forbes, Bloomberg

Bezos has made several investments in other companies, both on a personal level and through his venture capital firm Bezos Expeditions.

Source: Visual Capitalist

Bezos personally invested in Google in 1998, and his $1 million early investment would likely have made him a billionaire even without his extensive Amazon wealth.

Source: "The Everything Store" via Business Insider

Bezos Expeditions has invested in several startups, including blood testing biotech firm Grail, popular software developer website Stack Overflow, and Business Insider.

Business Insider was acquired by Axel Springer in 2015. Jeff Bezos is no longer invested.

Source: Visual Capitalist

One of Bezos' more notable purchases was his acquisition of The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.

Source: Business Insider

Since Bezos' acquisition, the Post has greatly expanded its digital offerings, and readership has exploded.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos' wealth is so massive that, according to Business Insider's 2018 calculations when he had a mere $130 billion fortune, spending $88,000 to him was similar to an average American spending $1.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos is one of the country's biggest landowners, and he and his family own at least five homes across the US.

Source: Business Insider

One estate, with two homes on 5.3 acres of land, is located in Medina, Washington, not far from Amazon's Seattle headquarters.

Source: Business Insider

Business Insider's Harrison Jacobs visited Medina in 2017 to get a sense of what the haven for Seattle's mega-wealthy was like.

Source: Business Insider

Jacobs got a picture of the outside of Bezos' estate, but tall hedges and a gate blocked any view inside.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos also owns a Spanish-style mansion in Beverly Hills, California. He bought the property in 2007 for a reported $24.25 million. He bought another, smaller house right next door a decade later.

Source: Business Insider

He also owns a ranch in Van Horn, Texas, which serves as a base for his Blue Origin space exploration company.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos purchased a townhouse in Washington, DC in 2016.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos owns several condos in the historic Century building at 25 Central Park West in Manhattan.

Source: Business Insider

In June 2019, the Amazon CEO reportedly dropped about $80 million on another three adjacent apartments in a different building at 212 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The spread consists of a three-story penthouse and the two units directly below it.

Source: Business Insider

Most recently, Bezos reportedly spent $165 million on another yet another Beverly Hills mansion — the Warner Estate. The Wall Street Journal reported the sale in February.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Bezos has traditionally been somewhat frugal with his ground transportation. As recently as 2013, he was still driving a Honda Accord, according to the book "The Everything Store."

Source: "The Everything Store" via Business Insider

However, Bezos also owns a $65 million Gulfstream G650ER private jet.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos sometimes has a taste for exotic cuisine. The founder of e-commerce startup Woot recounted a breakfast with Bezos shortly after Amazon acquired the company at which the billionaire ordered octopus.

Source: Business Insider

The founder recounted Bezos explaining similarities between Amazon's acquisition of Woot and his offbeat breakfast order. "You're the octopus that I'm having for breakfast," Bezos said. "When I look at the menu, you're the thing I don't understand, the thing I've never had. I must have the breakfast octopus."

Source: Business Insider

Bezos has not engaged in public philanthropy to the same extent as many of his hyper-billionaire peers like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who have both pledged to donate the majority of their fortunes to charity.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos' ex-wife MacKenzie did sign Gates' Giving Pledge in May 2019, pledging to donate more than half of her fortune during her lifetime.

In a blog post on July 28, MacKenzie announced that over the past year she has donated $1.7 billion to 116 organizations that support causes including racial equality, LGBTQ rights, public health, and climate change.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos has, however, supported Mary's Place, a Seattle organization that provides shelter and employment training to those who are homeless, and TheDream.US, which supports people who were brought to the US as undocumented immigrants when they were children.

Source: Business Insider

According to CNBC, Bezos has also donated significant sums to Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington Foundation, and Princeton University.

Source: CNBC

Bezos also supports some more unusual ventures, like the Long Now Foundation, which seeks to build a giant mechanical "10,000 year clock" underground in West Texas.

Source: Business Insider

The clock is intended to be a "symbol for long-term thinking," according to a tweet from Bezos.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos has been fascinated and inspired by NASA and space travel since watching the Apollo moon landings in his childhood. In 2013, Bezos funded and led an expedition to recover one of the rocket engines from the Apollo 12 mission from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

Source: The Seattle Times

Bezos' most ambitious venture may be Blue Origin, his space exploration company.

Blue Origin has had several successful test flights of its reusable New Shepard rocket, and is currently developing the larger, mostly reusable New Glenn rocket system, intended to compete with Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Source: Business Insider

In the long term, Bezos intends for Blue Origin to support large-scale human spaceflight, with the goal of colonizing the solar system.

Source: Business Insider

In 2018, Bezos told Matthias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider's parent company Axel Springer, that he considers Blue Origin "the most important work [he's] doing."

Source: Business Insider

Indeed, Bezos told Döpfner that he plans to spend his entire fortune on space exploration, saying, "I am going to use my financial lottery winnings from Amazon to fund that."

Source: Business Insider

And in February, Bezos announced a pledge to spend $10 billion to fight climate change.

"I'm committing $10 billion to start and will begin issuing grants this summer," Bezos wrote on Instagram. "Earth is the one thing we all have in common — let's protect it, together."⁣⁣⁣

Source: Business Insider

Bezos also spends plenty of cash in his personal life. He threw a star-studded birthday bash for girlfriend Lauren Sanchez in December.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos nearly lost the title of "the world's richest man" to Bill Gates in October 2019, after a disappointing earnings report sent both Amazon's share price and the CEO's net worth on a downward spiral in after-hours trading. Bezos' personal net worth fell $8.2 billion at that point, according to Bloomberg.

Source: Bloomberg

Of course, he's since bounced back in a major way. Even as the coronavirus pandemic upended the American economy in March, Bezos has continued to get wealthier — and now, he's richer than he's ever been.

Amazon's share price has surged throughout the pandemic as Americans practice social distancing to slow the virus' spread and increasingly turn to Amazon's delivery services for daily necessities.

Bezos doesn't plan to keep all of the $56.7 billion he added to his net worth so far in 2020, however. In April, he pledged to donate $100 million to food banks facing shortages due to the economic crisis spurred by the pandemic.

"My own time now is wholly focused on COVID-19 and how Amazon can best play its role," Bezos wrote in March. "I want you to know that Amazon will continue to do its part, and we won't stop looking for new opportunities to help."

Source: Business Insider

Amazon's continuous growth has drawn increasing scrutiny from lawmakers, culminating in a historic antitrust hearing in front of the House House Antitrust Subcommittee on July 29 where Bezos will testify alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

In prepared testimony released on his blog the day before, Bezos argues that Amazon's size benefits consumers, sellers, and the US economy, and that it still faces competition from Walmart, Instacart, and Shopify.

Source: Business Insider

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