The more pressing concern for shareholders is how the divorce could affect Jeff Bezos’ control of the company.
The experts who CNBC interviewed could not think of another situation where a founder of such an influential company divorced a spouse who had been with them since the company’s founding. The only one who came to mind was Rupert Murdoch, whose second wife Anna was with him for more than 30 years as he built his media empire before divorcing in 1999, but they reportedly had a prenuptial agreement.
It may be difficult for the Bezoses to split up their wealth without dipping significantly into their Amazon shares, said Jordan Neyland, an assistant professor of law at George Mason University who has written on the topic of CEO divorces.
“A lot of the prior CEO divorces have been more career professionals that have built up other wealth before becoming CEO,” Neyland said. “So I think that’s what makes this one a little different, being a founder getting divorced while in office.”
Typically, CEOs could avoid splitting up their shares by leaving other assets to their spouses, such as real estate and other property. But for the Bezoses, Neyland said, “all the wealth is going to be tied up in Amazon. In this case, I don’t know, of course, what to think of something of this magnitude, but I imagine his spouse is going to get some amount of stock in Amazon. So this is going to change the ownership in Amazon.”
This could mean Amazon may need to find a new structure to ensure that Jeff Bezos still owns enough voting power with his shares, Neyland said, like creating different classes of shares with varied amounts of voting power.
“This would be some creative lawyering that would have to happen,” Neyland said. “I don’t know if there’s been any sort of precedent for this.”
But Starks speculated that the couple probably came to an agreement on that point well before making their public announcement Wednesday.
“I have to imagine that some of the longest conversations and most legal mind power went into how to fashion a settlement that retained Jeff Bezos’ ability to remain a controlling shareholder in Amazon,” Starks said. In order for this to happen, Starks said, MacKenzie Bezos could have elected to give up claim to the stock or give up her voting rights to her shares.
Some of the terms of the settlement may come to light in Amazon SEC filings. Amazon declined to comment