For Jeff Bezos, wealth does not come from a monthly paycheck. Amazon only pays its founder a salary of $81,000 per year (not including the $1.6 million Amazon pays Bezos’s for security), a drop in the bucket compared to his overall net worth of an estimated $200 billion. Instead, nearly 90% of Bezos’s fortune lies in his Amazon stock holdings.
That is true not just for Bezos, but also for many of America’s wealthiest—and that’s a big reason why they pay so little in taxes relative to their total net worths. It’s also why many tycoons, including Bezos, sell stock regularly in the companies they run.
Altogether, the founder of the e-commerce giant has sold nearly $27 billion worth of Amazon stock since the company went public in 1997, Forbes has calculated. Bezos’s total stock sale proceeds, which have not been reported before to the best of Forbes’ knowledge, offer a look into the outgoing CEO of Amazon’s massive fortune. (He’s stepping down as CEO on July 5 but will stay on as Amazon’s executive chairman). Since 1998, Bezos has sold Amazon shares every year except for four: 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011. That in part explains why in at least two of those years—2007 and 2011—Bezos didn’t pay federal income taxes, as ProPublica reported earlier this month.
A spokesperson for Bezos did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.
Bezos began selling portions of his Amazon stake the year after his fledgling e-commerce company IPO’d in 1997. The sales started out in the tens of millions of dollars a year: just under $46 million in 1998, $21 million in 1999, $29 million in 2000. Over the next decade, Bezos slowly sold more shares, often two to three times a year, peaking in 2010 when he unloaded a total of 6 million shares for a pre-tax total of $793 million. But as Amazon’s stock price began to rise significantly, Bezos has sold fewer shares, but gotten more cash each time. He sold 4 million shares, for instance, in 2008 for $304 million. Last year, he also sold 4 million shares—but because the stock had skyrocketed more than 3,000% since 2008—he got $10 billion (before taxes) from the sales.
In all, Bezos’s Amazon stake has dwindled from 42% in 1997 to 10% after his sales this year, though the single biggest hit to his ownership didn’t come from unloading shares. When the billionaire got divorced in 2019, he transferred 19.7 million Amazon shares—a quarter of his stake that was then worth $36 billion, to ex-wife Mackenzie Scott. It was the costliest divorce in history.
So where has all that money gone, besides to his ex-wife and indirectly to the nonprofits she’s supported? We know where Bezos has spent some, but not all, of his billions.
In 2017, Bezos said he was selling about $1 billion of Amazon stock a year to invest in his commercial space company Blue Origin, which will take him and his brother, Mark, to space on its first crewed flight next month. Venture firm Space Capital estimates that Bezos has poured $7.5 billion into Blue Origin since it was founded in 2000. Bezos paid $250 million to purchase the Washington Post in 2013, which is still only a fraction of the $711 million worth of shares he sold that year.
There are also luxuries only someone with billions at their disposal can afford. Earlier this year, Bezos bought the famed Warner estate in Beverly Hills for a record $165 million from mogul David Geffen, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Property records list Perkins Cole, a law firm that frequently represents Amazon as the buyer). Bezos also has homes in Washington state, New York and Washington D.C. as well as a sprawling ranch in Texas, all of which are worth $504 million. Still, it’s unclear if he paid cash or has a mortgage on those properties. He’s also spending upwards of $500 million on a 417-foot custom-built superyacht, according to Bloomberg, which will be the largest sailing yacht ever constructed in the Netherlands when it’s completed. That’s in addition to his fancy Gulfstream private jet, which is reportedly worth $65 million.
Altogether, Forbes estimates that Bezos has paid $6 billion in federal capital gains taxes on his nearly $27 billion of Amazon share sales, assuming he didn’t use losses on other investments to offset those gains. ProPublica reported that between 2014 and 2018 Bezos paid $973 million in federal taxes.
Bezos has long been criticized for skimping on charitable donations, and for eschewing the Giving Pledge, a commitment to give away the majority of one’s fortune. While he’s gifted some Amazon shares to charity over the years, Bezos has only recently embraced big philanthropy. Since 2018, he’s pledged $12 billion to launch his own charities. The Bezos Day One Fund, with a $2 billion commitment from Bezos, is creating a controversial network of non-profit preschools in low-income communities and awarding grants to groups helping homeless families. Last year Bezos pledged $10 billion to launch the Bezos Earth Fund, which is giving grants to organizations fighting climate change. The fund has so far doled out $791 million. Before 2018, Bezos gave a smattering of million dollar gifts, including $33 million to TheDream.us, a nonprofit funding college scholarships for Dreamers, and $15 million to create the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at Princeton University.
Altogether, Forbes can account for an estimated $14 billion in Bezos’s spending. Additionally, some of his money has been invested in startups. Bezos was an early investor in Google, according to Bloomberg reporter Brad Stone’s book The Everything Store, though we don’t know if Bezos kept or sold his stake when the search giant went public in 2004. He’s also put money into his family office, Bezos Expeditions, which has invested in more than 100 companies since 2006, according to PitchBook, including Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. It’s unclear how much money Bezos has put into Bezos Expeditions so far, but it’s likely he’s done well with his investments. Which means he could be worth billions of dollars more than the $200 billion at which Forbes currently pegs his net worth.