Amazon executives suspected Jeff Bezos was poised to divorce his wife when they noticed their boss taking an unusually keen interest in helicopters — a mode of transportation he had always despised.
In the summer of 2018 the married founder of Amazon was secretly dating Lauren Sanchez, the owner of Black Ops Aviation and a helicopter pilot in her own right.
Company executives were “perplexed” when they noticed the budget charges for Black Ops, which Bezos had hired to film a test flight for his secretive Blue Origin space enterprise, according to Brad Stone’s “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire” (Simon & Schuster), out Tuesday.
“It was another unfathomable shift to contemplate because as they all knew, Jeff Bezos hated helicopters,” writes Stone, who was given access to Amazon executives for his follow-up to his 2013 bestseller, “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.“
The voluptuous Sanchez, a former anchor for Fox News in Los Angeles, was by Bezos’ side for the ninth test flight of the “New Shepard” rocket at his sprawling Texas ranch in July 2018. Sanchez was also married at the time, to celebrity agent Patrick Whitesell, chair of the Endeavor talent agency, who introduced his wife to Bezos in 2016. (It’s unclear when the affair began, according to Stone.)
Until their affair was revealed by the National Enquirer months later, the “guarded” Bezos carried on with “an intact marriage” with MacKenzie, his wife of 25 years and the mother of their four children. In April 2018, the world’s richest man even took his family on vacation to an ice hotel in Norway to celebrate her birthday, writes Stone, citing court papers.
But by the fall of 2018 Amazon executives had noticed that their usually very focused boss was distracted and increasingly hard to locate, writes Stone. And the helicopters he once hated had become something of an obsession. Bezos’ holding company purchased one, and Amazon’s unpopular proposal to include helipads at a proposed second headquarters in Long Island City “came right from the top” and helped scuttle the deal in 2019.
“Just to set the record straight, I did have a relationship with this woman,” Bezos told his top executives as he tried to get ahead of the Enquirer’s revelations, which included leaked photos and steamy texts. “But the story is completely wrong and out of order. MacKenzie and I have had good, healthy adult conversations about it. She is fine. The kids are fine. The media is having a field day. All of this is very distracting, so thank you for being focused on the business.”
Bezos announced his divorce in a Jan. 9, 2019, tweet as the Enquirer story shocked the world. Dozens of current and former employees were “surprised and disappointed by Bezos’s affair,” writes Stone.
Most of all, they were shocked by a new truth:
“Their infallible and righteous leader was, after all, a flawed human.”