J is for Jeff Bezos: The sky was no longer the limit for the billionaire flying high on Amazon’s pandemic bounce

This year Jeff Bezos had the time of his life. In July the Amazon founder and second richest person on Earth travelled to space in a rocket built by his company Blue Origin for a ten-minute, ten-second flight before returning to earth.

What did he make of this profound, life-changing experience? “Best day ever!” he cried upon touchdown.

Of course, the cynics will say he should have spent the money saving thousands of lives down here on Earth – but, look, he needed some space.

When not shooting off to explore the galaxy in a phallic tin, Bezos has been reorganising the leadership structure at Amazon. Days before he fulfilled his dream of becoming an astronaut, Bezos stood down as Amazon CEO to take on the role of executive chairman – a position both Google’s Eric Schmidt and Microsoft’s Bill Gates adopted when they stepped back from the front line.

Amazon’s top job went to Andy Jassy, who previously led the company’s spectacularly successful cloud computing division.

The move will allow Bezos to focus on his other interests. Alongside his adventures in space, he spends his time on the climate change-busting Bezos Earth Fund, to which he’s pledged $10bn. At the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November, Bezos announced $2bn to help restore natural habitats and transform food systems.

Money isn’t everything. But it’s unlikely Bezos would have been invited to speak at Cop26 or to spend time with the Prime Minister and the heirs to the British throne if he wasn’t so rich.

Amazon made $110bn between July and September, and Bezos is likely to celebrate the new year with a net worth of around $200bn. The billionaire’s wealth has ballooned during the pandemic as lockdowns forced people to turn to online shopping and services.

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Bezos is aware of this. When he arrived back to Earth in July, the e-commerce astronaut thanked Amazon customers and employees for enabling the venture. With surreal sincerity he added: “You guys paid for it!”

Indeed, we did – in more ways than one.

Find the other entries in the New Statesman A-Z of 2021 here.

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