Why would Jeff Bezos, who from an early age showed a precocious interest in space exploration and invention and now preaches the virtues of long-term thinking, suddenly be interested in owning a 136-year-old daily newspaper?
In a letter Monday to his soon-to-be employees at The Washington Post, Bezos did not divulge a plan and, in fact, claimed not to have one, except that he expects the company to experiment and reinvent itself. He also noted he won’t lead the newspaper day to day as he does Amazon.com.
“I am happily living in ‘the other Washington,’ where I have a day job that I love,” Bezos, 49, said. “Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.”
Bezos long has been known for his varied interests, and Monday’s announcement adds yet another to the list.
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He also owns a private aerospace company, Kent-based Blue Origin, which aims to make space travel more affordable, and he recently spearheaded an undersea recovery of Apollo 11 wreckage.
His private-investment arm, Bezos Expeditions, has a stake in everything from social-media websites Airbnb and Twitter to financial-news site Business Insider.
In 2011, Bezos made two of his first large, public donations to charity: $10 million for an innovation center at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry, followed by $15 million to his alma mater to establish the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.
Bezos, who’s widely believed to be libertarian, makes few public appearances, carefully guards his privacy and lives on a Medina waterfront estate with his novelist wife, Mackenzie Bezos, and their four children.
As a high-school valedictorian in Florida, he dreamed of developing space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for up to 3 million people orbiting the Earth.
“He was not optimistic about what we were doing to our planet, and this was before global warming was a big issue,” his then-girlfriend, Ursula Werner, told The Seattle Times in 2011. “He was also really intrigued by the idea of rocketing into outer space.”
Bezos studied electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, then headed to Wall Street. In 1994, he was working for D.E. Shaw, a quantitative hedge fund in New York, when he came up with the idea for an online bookstore.
At age 30, he quit his job and moved across the country to start Amazon in a Bellevue rental house. The company went public three years later, and Bezos instantly was worth $290 million.
Today, his stake is valued at nearly $26 billion.
Among his more peculiar projects is a massive clock that’s supposed to run for 10 millennia inside a mountain in West Texas.
Bezos, a native of Albuquerque, N.M, has said the purpose of his so-called 10,000 Year Clock is to encourage people to be less shortsighted and to focus on the long-term.
“If you take the long view,” he told Wired magazine in 2011, “you can solve problems you can’t solve any other way.”
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @amyemartinez