Books to rockets: the modern era’s richest man

Reach for the skies: Bezos founded his aerospace company, Blue Origin, in 2000. © Getty

Is Jeff Bezos a hero or villain? The billionaire entrepreneur has officially become the richest man in modern history, overtaking Bill Gates. But scandals consistently dog his Amazon empire.

In the 54 years Jeff Bezos has been alive, he has earned, on average, around £4,000 per minute. This is about £5.7 million per day.

The rapid rise of Amazon means its founder has become the world’s richest man.

But Jeff Bezos is more than that. According to the Bloomberg billionaires index, he is worth around £115 billion. His fortune, adjusted for inflation, is the largest known for a single person since Forbes magazine started publishing its wealth ranking in 1982.

His main company Amazon, was started as an online bookstore in 1994. It is now valued at £678 billion, making it the world’s second most valuable company.

Bezos is also the founder of Blue Origin, a space exploration company that is competing to be the first to land a human on Mars.

Writing for The New York Times, Nellie Bowles described Bezos’s public persona as that of “a brilliant but mysterious and cold-blooded corporate titan.”

Yet stories emerge of terrible conditions at Amazon warehouses, where employees on 11-hour shifts are given just 15 minutes for lunch and are reduced to urinating in bottles.

The online retailer has also been responsible for closing down thousands of independent shops.

Is Jeff Bezos really such a hero?


Bezos has changed the world for the better, say some. Amazon has revolutionised reading by inventing the Kindle. Shopping has never been easier. Thanks to Bezos, people are no longer limited in their purchases by where they live. He has created huge wealth. We should all applaud him.

Others respond that Bezos’s empire has made the world a more impersonal, cynical place. While Bezos sits on a fortune no person could possibly need, his employees slave away in appalling conditions. Amazon has decimated towns and high streets. Was it really worth it?

You Decide

  1. Is Jeff Bezos a hero or a villain?


  1. In groups, find out what you could afford if you had Jeff Bezos’s fortune. For example, how many private jets or loaves of bread?

Some People Say...

“If you can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.”

Jeff Bezos

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Jeff Bezos topped the Forbes rich list in 2018, and according to a new survey, he is the richest person of the modern era when adjusted for inflation.
What do we not know?
Whether Bezos will stay at the top of the rich list for a long time. Bill Gates topped it consistently for over a decade, albeit with interruptions from Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim.

Word Watch

World’s richest man
As well as founding Amazon, Bezos was an early investor in Google, Airbnb and Business Insider.
Jeff Bezos
Bezos is the adopted son of a Cuban immigrant. Having studied computer science at university, he found work in an investment firm before leaving to found Amazon in 1994.
Second most valuable company
Behind Apple, and just ahead of Alphabet and Microsoft.
Urinating in bottles
This was because employees had their pay docked for every toilet break.

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