As CCN.com has reported, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are officially divorcing. Whether or not the divorce is the result of a months-long affair with Lauren Sanchez has not been confirmed. What we do know is that unless they change their minds, Amazon shareholders have cause for concern.
According to Business Insider, the assets will most likely be structured in a way that prevents immediate dumping from MacKenzie. Washington State, where they will likely file the divorce, doesn’t strictly require that MacKenzie will get half of Jeff’s assets. Nevertheless, any reasonably good divorce attorney can ensure she gets enough to matter.
Legal experts told Business Insider that the structure of the divorce would most likely not force the liquidation of Amazon shares.
MacKenzie’s shares could go one of three ways. In one scenario, she’s free to do as she pleases with them. Importantly, if she were to act irresponsibly, other investors could sue her. In another scenario, she gets millions of shares but has a specific schedule on which she can sell them. In yet another scenario, she gets half of Bezos’ shares, but Jeff retains voting rights associated with such shares.
Speaking of voting rights, Amazon is structured the old-fashioned way: one share, one vote. While Jeff Bezos has the largest single holding at present, cutting his shares in half puts him and MacKenzie just a little ahead of other major holders. Two of the largest holders of Amazon stock are BlackRock and Vanguard. So far they have held their breath and made no public statements on Jeff Bezos’ divorce.
Another aspect of the divorce is Jeff Bezos’ leadership. It’s no secret that divorce is taxing on parties involved. This reporter has seen divorce wreck plenty a career. Studies show that men often do better financially after a divorce. However, about half of all men and women are worse off in the long run. Also, most men are not running the world’s most valuable company.
In one respect, it’s surprising the marriage lasted this long with the level of focus required to build Amazon from a small book-selling website into the world’s largest retailer. Some have said that it wouldn’t have been possible without MacKenzie. Behind every great man is a great woman, the old saying goes. MacKenzie Bezos was the first accountant at Amazon. She is also potentially responsible for the naming of the company, which might have been Relentless.com without her input.
Either way, drastic changes in one’s personal life create distractions. Whether it’s the distraction of the divorce itself or the distraction of his new romantic interest, Bezos may not be as on top of his game. Missed opportunities or any number of things might slow growth at Amazon.
The opposite is also possible. Bezos, a free man, renews his commitment to his other wife, Amazon, and pushes the company to greater heights than ever before dreamed.
In the first case, Amazon would be hard pressed to find a suitable replacement for Bezos as CEO. A company native who has derived most of his wealth from Amazon, nearly anyone else would struggle to fill his shoes. This means that Amazon would be in a tough position that might only be made worse by the resignation or replacement of Jeff Bezos.
So what the divorce means is uncertainty, which certainly will have an effect on funds and retail investors deciding between AMZN and other quality bets. So far people seem to be keeping their money with the company. But the chaotic process of divorce has only just begun.
Jeff Bezos image from Wikimedia Commons