What will Amazon without Jeff Bezos as CEO look like? It could look a lot like Bezos’ biggest personal passion project — Blue Origin, which is working to send people and payloads on space trips ranging from suborbital hops to the moon and beyond.
There’s already speculation that Bezos’ decision to step back from the CEO role and serve as Amazon’s executive chairman will free him up to devote more time to Blue Origin. After all, he’s basically come around to admitting that he founded Amazon in part to earn the billions he’d need for his own space effort.
But Bezos has picked up a lot of other passions since his days in Princeton, when he headed the local chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.
That’s reflected in the email he sent to Amazon employees, announcing a tectonic shift for the world’s richest individual (at least as of today … sorry, Elon Musk).
“As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions,” Bezos wrote. “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”
The order in which Bezos lays out his list may well reflect the priority of his passions, especially considering that he’s a seasoned list-maker.
Bezos is said to devote one day a week to Blue Origin (reportedly, Wednesdays), plus at least $1 billion worth of the annual proceeds from his sales of Amazon shares. He’s presided over high-profile publicity events including the unveiling of the Blue Moon lunar lander. But when it comes to the day-to-day business, he handed that responsibility over to veteran aerospace executive Bob Smith, who became Blue Origin’s CEO in 2017.
More recently, Bezos’ passions seem to be trending more toward addressing the global climate challenge, as evidenced by the establishment of the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund and Amazon’s $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund.
Will Blue Origin continue to get Bezos’ attention? Absolutely. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever abandon his vision of having millions of people living and working and space. Back in 2018, he said Blue Origin was “the most important work that I’m doing.” (And in some circles, he was pilloried for saying it).
But Bezos has also insisted that long-term space development efforts should be aimed at moving heavy industry and power generation off Earth, preserving our planet for “residential zoning.”
“There are a lot of important objectives here on Earth we need to do here and now,” Bezos said in 2019. “The real question is, it shouldn’t be framed as an either-or choice. You also have to spend some money on things that are 10 years out, 20 years out, 50 years out, 100 years out.”
He said his objective was to have “a whole diversified portfolio of trying to do the right thing.”
If Bezos is true to his word, stepping back from Amazon’s CEO role doesn’t mean he’ll turn into a full-time space geek. He’s more likely to take advantage of the opportunity to diversify his portfolio.