The Inside Story of MacKenzie Scott, the Mysterious 60-Billion-Dollar Woman

Amazon’s first employee, Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife, and one of the world’s richest women is rewriting the philanthropy playbook

An illustrated collage of MacKenzie Bezos.
An illustrated collage of MacKenzie Bezos.
Illustration: Nicole Rifkin

She was given an office next to a young executive. Hearing “that giant laugh” of his, she has said, she became intrigued. His name was Jeff Bezos.

After graduation, Scott moved to New York, but found “I was having a lot of trouble making ends meet,” she later told Rose. Though she still hoped to be a novelist, she needed steady money and got a job at D.E. Shaw, a quantitative hedge fund. She was given an office next to a young executive. Hearing “that giant laugh” of his, she has said, she became intrigued. His name was Jeff Bezos. Three months after meeting at Shaw, Bezos and Scott got engaged. (She later told Vogue that she pursued him.) They married in September 1993, when she was only 23.

Within books-obsessed Amazon, though, Scott didn’t distinguish herself as a books enthusiast, as a fiction writer, or as much more than the boss’s pleasant wife who handled numbers.

The early work environment celebrated literature and wonkiness. Most of the first crop of Amazon employees were “book nerds,” says Erica Jorgensen, who joined in 1997 as a copy editor. Employees had to provide SAT scores before getting hired, and once they were on staff, competed to throw around big words. They got excited to feature authors like Penelope Fitzgerald and Arundhati Roy on the site, or meet Michael Chabon when he dropped by the office.

Scott seemed comfortable ceding the spotlight to her husband, but it also meant she was often cast as wife-of rather than as her own person.

Years later, reading an in-flight magazine article about Bezos that mentioned Scott, it hit Verigin that the author he’d met was the very rich wife of a prominent businessman. “I’ll tell you the strongest reaction I had,” he says. “My reaction was, ‘Oh, gosh, I hope it doesn’t stop her from writing,’ because I so much liked the enthusiasm and the obvious love she had for the craft.”

She gave him 75% of their Amazon stock and voting control of her shares, which left her a 4% stake in Amazon worth $38 billion or so at the time.

In January 2019, Bezos announced in a Twitter post that he and Scott were divorcing after a trial separation, to “continue our shared life as friends.” Just after that, the National Enquirer revealed Bezos had been having an affair with TV host Lauren Sánchez, and ran excerpts of their racy texts. Bezos responded with a Medium post saying he had been extorted by the National Enquirer’s publisher, and vowing to find out who had leaked the texts to the Enquirer. (A Wall Street Journal report pinpointed Sanchez’s brother, who it said sold the texts for $200,000.)

Skeptics questioned why Bezos was giving money to combat homelessness while also fighting a proposed Seattle tax that would’ve funded programs to help the homeless but hit Amazon hard.

Despite their billions, Scott and Bezos didn’t make much of an effort in either technocratic or traditional philanthropy prior to this year. This stood out particularly in Seattle, where the corporate culture, shaped by hometown companies Nordstrom, Microsoft, Costco, Starbucks, and others, was of giving back. Leaders from those companies, and their spouses, tended to sit on nonprofit boards and donate generously, while the companies themselves also made major contributions. Amazon, and Bezos and Scott, had barely participated. The Seattle Times described Amazon in 2012 as being a “virtual no-show in hometown philanthropy.” It also has long been criticized for paying so little in corporate taxes.

The bigger concern, some critics say, is the very source of Scott’s money, and what she owes the public as a result.

Valencia called from his North Hollywood bedroom, where he’d been running the organization since shutdown, pacing with his headphones on. Then he sat down, hard. The caller told him Point Foundation was getting a major gift — one of the largest it had ever received, Valencia says — from MacKenzie Scott. (He declined to cite the specific amount.)

By Friday, the value of Scott’s shares in Amazon had gone up so much that it more than replaced what she had given away.

Yet, other than the recipient groups, categories, and broad amounts, she didn’t reveal much about how she gave the money away or how she may give in the future, which concerns some critics. “MacKenzie Scott, by virtue of the amount of money she has, has an obligation to be more transparent about the structure she set up for her philanthropies and her future intentions,” Reich says. The “announcement is an announcement of her power, and power, wherever it is wielded in a democratic society, deserves scrutiny.” An undisclosed detail — whether she gave directly, through a foundation, or through an LLC — translates into important tax advantage distinctions, different disclosure requirements, and other specifics like whether or not she can support political causes. Plus, the speed with which she reviewed the nonprofits and gave the money, with little tracking, raises some concern that the groups won’t use it well — although it also means money gets where it’s needed faster (and perhaps indicates that the slow, deliberate grantmaking that philanthropists often do isn’t necessary).

Written by

Journalist covering criminal justice and business; novelist (NYT bestseller Everybody Rise). Latest:

Sign up for Buy/Sell/Hold

By Marker

A newsletter that's 100% business intelligence, and 0% investment advice. Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store