An explainer: What's going on with Jeff Bezos and Amazon

  • Amazon has been on an amazing trajectory, but for the first time in years, the company is facing some uncertainty.
  • Part of it began when CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced they are getting divorced.
  • Personal life aside, Amazon has met recent backlash for cancelling its HQ2 plans in New York.

Following is a transcript of the video:

Troy Wolverton: Amazon has been, in recent years, on this amazing trajectory. Its stock skyrocketed last year. Everything seemed to be going right for the company, and, you know, finally for the first time in many years, the company is in a more uncertain place today than it was six months or a year ago.

Early last month, Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, in a tweet announced that they were going to be getting a divorce. They had been married for 25 years, they have four kids together, and so it kind of came out of nowhere that they were going to be getting a divorce. It became more understandable later that week when the National Enquirer came out and announced that they had a story that Jeff Bezos was having an affair with a TV personality, or former TV personality, named Lauren Sánchez.

Jeff Bezos wasn’t immediately critical of the story, but he was apparently upset about the release of the texts and hired an investigator to find out who had leaked them. Bezos posted on Medium, basically accused the National Enquirer of trying to blackmail and extort him. National Enquirer said that they had some racy photos of Bezos, including a naked photo of Bezos himself, threatened to release those photos, publish them, if Bezos didn’t call off his investigation. Bezos and his Medium post basically said he wasn’t going to do it and he wasn’t going to give into “extortion and blackmail” as he termed it.

In terms of the divorce, many states that have community property states are pretty explicit about if there’s a divorce, how you split up the assets of a married couple. Generally the split is a 50/50 split. In Washington, that’s not necessarily the case. You have to split it in a fair and equitable way, however that’s determined. Most of the assets that the Bezos’ own are tied up in Jeff’s holdings of Amazon stock. He owns about 16% of the company. He’s worth about $US133 billion dollars, and so that stake would be divvied up between him and MacKenzie. That would give her about an 8% stake in Amazon, which would make her and Jeff the two largest individual stakeholders in the company. And so there is some concern that Bezos could potentially be distracted by the divorce and not give the running of Amazon his full attention, and that the company could suffer as a result of that.

Another thing that’s been triggering concern was development of facial recognition technology. Amazon Web Services has developed this facial recognition technology, and that they have been licensing it to law enforcement agencies, and the concern about ICE using that to target immigrants, and there are concerns that it ought to be more regulation of that.

The other big thing that’s been going on with Amazon lately, of course, has been the HQ2 stuff in New York. Amazon launched this big search where they were going to look for a second headquarters to accompany the main headquarters they had in Seattle. They ended up deciding on splitting the second headquarters, HQ2, between New York and northern Virginia. Northern Virginia embraced the HQ2, but in New York, there was immediate opposition to the project.

One of the biggest was simply that many local officials and citizens that were going to be affected by the project were upset they hadn’t been consulted, that this was a backroom deal that was negotiated between Amazon and Mayor de Blasio and the governor’s office. Among those concerns were that you were gonna have 25,000 people that were coming into Queens, Long Island, and there might not be the transit infrastructure there, that it was going to overload whatever transit was in place.

Plenty of concerns too about what the impact was gonna be on housing, that they were going to make prices go even higher and make it even more unaffordable. And the other issue that was brought up had to do with unionization. New York is a pro-union town. Amazon is historically a fairly anti-union company, and company officials were asked at city council meetings about whether or not they would even be just neutral on the prospect of unionization of their workers of New York, and they couldn’t even commit to being neutral on that.

Jeff Bezos’ proposal as part of this project to have a helipad on the HQ2 headquarters in New York, and the reason that struck such a sour tone with many people was because the idea that many of the people that were affected by this project were gonna be stuck in traffic or stuck on overcrowded transit while Jeff Bezos was floating high above them on his way to work, having an easy commute.

Here you have the richest man in the world, and we’re having a project that’s catering to his needs while not serving the broader interest.

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