Meet MacKenzie Scott, Amazon’s billionaire 1st employee

She’s bringing a new brand of philanthropy to the tech world.

The last time we heard from MacKenzie Scott, she had pledged to give $1.7B to 116 small-scale nonprofits.

While many wealthy philanthropists attach strings to their money (e.g., they want their name on a building, or need the organization to meet certain metrics), Scott’s contributions are essentially a blank check.

With a 4% stake in Amazon, Scott is worth $60B+. But aside from her status as Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, most people know little about her.

A timeline of Scott’s life

An in-depth Marker report sheds a few details on her early life:

  • 1970: She was born into a wealthy San Francisco family (who later went bankrupt following an SEC investigation).
  • Late ‘80s: She attended Princeton and studied writing under the famed novelist Toni Morrison.
  • Early ‘90s: She landed an assistant gig at the New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw.
  • 1993: She married Jeff Bezos, then an executive at the same firm.

In 1994, the newlywed couple drove cross-country — and, in a Seattle garage, launched what is now Amazon.com.

Scott brought a literary flair to the new company

She started out handling contracts and bookkeeping. But while Bezos saw Amazon’s first product (books) in primarily financial terms, Scott loved the art of them.

While working at Amazon as an accountant, she wrote her own stories on the side: The Testing of Luther Albright (2005) and Traps (2013).

Then she stepped out on her own

Last year, after she and Bezos divorced, Scott signed the Giving Pledge, committing to donate most of her wealth to charity.

She seems poised to become a philanthropist with a different spin — one that wants to offer small orgs a financial lift without bogging them down in micromanagement.

Among the recipients of her donations:

  • Historically Black colleges like Howard University and Tuskegee University
  • An India-based nonprofit called Educate Girls
  • The LGBTQ-focused Point Foundation

Some people have criticized the secrecy of her approach

No one knows how Scott is giving — through a foundation, LLC, or directly — and that can have big implications for her tax status.

Amazon critics also aren’t too happy that the source of her wealth is a company that has paid virtually nothing in taxes.

Still, her commitments to charity currently dwarf those made by her ex.

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