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King of the Online Jungle: The Early Years of Jeff Bezos

When McKenzie Tuttle walked down the aisle to say “I do” to her husband-to-be Jeff Bezos, she thought she was marrying into a secure future. At the time, Bezos was in his 30s and serving as Vice President of an investment firm in New York City. It was a job he liked – and one that paid well – but Bezos couldn’t shake this crazy idea from his head; he wanted “to create the world’s most customer-centric company, the place where you can find and buy anything you want online.” That stable life McKenzie once had was almost immediately turned upside down when Bezos decided to launch Amazon.com. As fate would have it, Bezos’ small garage startup would go on to become one of the leading e-commerce sites in the world, with revenues exceeding $8 billion.

Jeffrey Preston Bezos was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the time, his mother Jackie was still a teenager. She divorced Bezos’ father that same year. When Bezos was five years old, Jackie remarried to Miguel Bezos, a Cuban-born engineer for Exxon. The family moved to Houston, Texas, near a 25,000 acre ranch owned by Bezos’ maternal grandfather. It was here where Bezos would spend most of his summers, learning the basics of everything from veterinary care for cattle to repairing bulldozers in what he now calls “just an incredible, incredible experience.”

Even as a young child, Bezos showed signs of being mechanically gifted; he dismantled his own crib with a screwdriver and rigged his room with an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out. “Our garage was basically science fair central,” recalls Bezos with a giant laugh. “I think I occasionally worried my parents that they were going to open the door one day and have 30 pounds of nails drop on their head or something.”

After graduating from Miami Palmetto Senior High School, Bezos was accepted into the physics program at Princeton University. However, after struggling to solve quantum mechanics problems that his classmates found incredibly easy, Bezos says, “I realized I’m never going to be a great physicist.” At the same time, Bezos had also been studying computer science and found it was something he excelled at. He had first been introduced to computers in elementary school, where none of the teachers knew how to make any sense of their own mainframe computer; Bezos had taken it upon himself to learn how to program it.

Bezos graduated from Princeton with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering. Although he toyed with the idea of starting his own company, he decided to give himself more time to learn about the business world first. So, Bezos took a job with a brokerage firm on Wall Street, where he was able to use his computer skills to build networks that would help clear trades. “That was where I was working when I came across the fact that the web was growing at 2,300 percent a year,” says Bezos. It was a wake up call for the budding young entrepreneur.

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