Jeff Bezos is officially the richest person on the planet thanks to the success of Amazon – but his bold vision extends to space and time itself.
With Amazon’s share price up nearly 60 per cent in the past year, the personal wealth of the company’s 54-year-old founder has doubled to more than US$110 billion.
Bezos leapt past Bill Gates this week to the top spot on an annual Forbes magazine list of billionaires, relegating the Microsoft co-founder to second place with a net worth of about US$90 billion.
He has gone on record with a formula for success that includes taking bold bets, riding change and rebounding from setbacks.
“You need to be nimble and robust so you need to be able to take a punch and you also need to be quick and innovative and do new things at a higher speed, that’s the best defence against the future,” Bezos said in an interview published in Vanity Fair magazine last year.
“You have to always be leaning into the future. If you’re leaning away from the future, the future is gonna win, every time.”
Bezos’s penchant for experimenting reportedly dates to a young age – with one widely recounted storytelling that he tried to dismantle his own crib as a toddler.
His mother was a teenager when she gave birth to Jeff in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 12, 1964.
She remarried when her son was about four years old, and he was legally adopted by his Cuban immigrant stepfather who worked as an engineer at a major petrochemical company.
His mother’s family were settlers in Texas, where Bezos spent many a summer working at a ranch owned by a grandfather retired from a job as a regional director at the US Atomic Energy Commission.
Bezos was enchanted by computer science when the IT industry was in its infancy and he studied engineering at Princeton University.
After graduating, he put his skills to work on Wall Street, where by 1990 he had risen to be a senior vice-president at investment firm D.E. Shaw.
He surprised peers by leaving his high-paid position four years later to open an online bookseller called Amazon.com, which, according to legend, started in a garage.
Bezos went from a boy with a love for how things work to the man who built Amazon.com into an internet powerhouse.
Amazon grew to dominate commerce and become a formidable contender in cloud computing and artificial intelligence with its digital assistant Alexa.
The Seattle-based company was worth about US$750 billion based on its share price last week.
Bezos has such a proven track record for shaking up the business sectors he enters that he has been dubbed “disruptor-in-chief”.
Like his company, Bezos has also transformed with time, shaving his head and bulking up his body with exercise. The results were immortalised in a series of photos taken at a conference last year.
And, he seems to be growing more comfortable being in the public eye, according to recent portrait piece in The New York Times.
A fan of science fiction and in particular the British author Iain Banks, Bezos has passions other than Amazon.
Bezos called Banks “a huge personal favourite” in a tweet last month while announcing that Amazon Prime video service was working on a television series based on one of the author’s novels.
Bezos has invested some US$42 million in building a 150-metre-tall clock designed to keep time for 10,000 years. Built inside a mountain in Texas, the clock will be powered by geothermal energy.
“Humans are now technologically advanced enough that we can create not only extraordinary wonders but also civilisation-scale problems,” Bezos says in a blog post devoted to the clock project. “We’re likely to need more long-term thinking.”
Bezos is also behind private space exploration operation Blue Origin, into which he usually invests money from selling Amazon shares.
Blue Origin has outlined plans to build a spaceship and lunar lander capable of delivering cargo to the moon, perhaps to support colonies there.
With the purchase of The Washington Post in 2013, the internet entrepreneur added a prestigious news operation to his investments.
The Post, and Bezos himself, have been targeted by US President Donald Trump. An open critic of Trump, Bezos has jokingly offered to send him into space.
Bezos has been married to writer Mackenzie, since 1993. They have four children.