An open letter to the soon-to-be-richest woman in the world.
Is it all right that I call you that? I feel a little weird about it, but would feel even weirder if I called you Mrs. Bezos, considering all that’s going on.
There was last week’s divorce announcement, via Twitter, in which you and your husband, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced your decision to split after 25 years and four children. It came after a long period of separation and something you described as “loving exploration.” A little too close to “conscious uncoupling,” but OK.
Within hours we learned there was another woman; a Los Angeles-based TV host named Lauren Sanchez who is married to a Hollywood agent named Patrick Whitesell. People Magazine reported that you both knew about your spouses’ relationship for months.
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Then came the tawdry part. The four-month investigation by The National Enquirer, including “racy” texts that really didn’t break the speed limit, if you ask me. In one, your husband wrote to Sanchez: ” … I want to fall asleep with you and wake up tomorrow and read the paper with you and have coffee with you.” Rawr.
Along with the revelations, though, came one surprising realization: It took this awfulness for most people to learn that you even existed.
For the past 20 years, you have helped your husband build an online behemoth that has changed how we shop, eat and binge-watch. And in Seattle, it’s upended our traffic, housing and the city’s very soul.
You are about a dozen lawyers and 10,000 billable hours from becoming the richest woman in the world, worth some $62 billion in Amazon stock.
And you are a mystery.
“She’s so invisible in this town,” said the head of a local PR firm.
“I don’t know a damn thing about her,” said a local consultant who has advised political and business leaders for decades.
So, like a million other people, I did a deep dive, including a stop at your Wikipedia page (where your photo, by the way, is terribly out of focus).
According to your Amazon author’s biography, you grew up in Northern California and wrote your first book when you were 6. You studied creative writing at Princeton, and (this is my favorite part) worked as a dishwasher, waitress, deli cashier and a research assistant to the great author Toni Morrison. As a researcher at a New York hedge fund, you met your husband and were so taken by his big laugh that you asked him to lunch. You married soon after.
It was you who drove across the country from New York to Seattle while your husband rode shotgun, tapping out the business plan for the World’s Largest Bookstore on a laptop. You were the company’s first accountant, and right there when Amazon’s earliest crew packed Christmas orders in your Bellevue garage.
In 2005, you wrote your first novel, “The Testing of Luther Albright,” which won the American Book Award. Your second novel, “Traps,” was published in 2014.
And now this. Once the smoke clears and the ink dries, you will have billions to do whatever you choose; to step out from behind the Amazon smile and make a mark of your own.
Feel free to ignore me. But if I were you, I’d take a look at the role models who surround us: wealthy, privileged women who embody purpose, a broad view and a desire to share their good fortune.
The Beyoncé of them all, in my view, is Melinda French Gates. She and her husband established a foundation that makes the United Nations look like a Rite-Aid. They are tackling health and other huge issues on a global scale. And Melinda is on the ground with the people the foundation is seeking to save, administering vaccines, listening to stories. It’s meaningful work.
Sheri Kersch Schultz, wife of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, also started a foundation with her husband, and has long been focused on at-risk youth and veterans. The first time I met her, she was leading a class at Youth Care, teaching former street kids how to be baristas so they could find work and pull themselves up. Two years ago, she personally announced a $1 million donation to the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign.
Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple CEO Steve Jobs (worth a mere $30 billion), founded the Emerson Collective, which advocates for policies relating to immigration and education reform. She co-founded College Track, a nonprofit aimed at improving graduation rates for disadvantaged high-schoolers. In 2017, Emerson Collective acquired majority ownership of The Atlantic.
There is The Bezos Family Foundation, which was founded and is run by your in-laws, Miguel and Jacklyn Bezos. But you’re not involved, really, beyond the $5 million you and your husband gave in 2015. Last fall, your husband announced a $2 billion philanthropic commitment. But your name wasn’t even mentioned.
And people have noticed.
“She has lived in this town for 20 years,” one of your own friends told me the other day. “What has she done?”
Being part of your husband’s outrageous business success, raising four children and writing two books is a lot; more than most people do in their entire lives. And you’re not even 50.
But this fortune, this freedom allows you to do so much more. To show us who you are. To write your own story.
“It’s time to step up,” your friend said of you. And I had to agree.
When you’re ready, let us know. It’d be great to see you.