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Divorcing as a CEO and Founder – What Can Be Learned from the Divorce of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos?

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about your individual situation it is best to seek the advice of an experienced legal professional.

A leader in business and now a leader in divorce? Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, none other than the world’s richest couple, have just announced that they plan to divorce amicably. The couple’s worth is intimately tied up with Amazon, as their marriage spanned the founding and duration of the company. When a company depends on its founders’ relationship like this, a divorce could be huge, and potentially disastrous for the company. The Bezoses are getting divorce in Washington, which, like California, is a community property state. That means that their wealth is required to be divided in half – unless the couple have agreed otherwise through a prenup or mediation. Since their wealth is tied up in Amazon it could mean that Bezos would lose his voting power in the company, spelling a huge shake-up in operations. Instead the Bezoses have chosen to present an agreeable face to the public and acknowledge their gratitude to each other for their 25 year marriage. The Bezoses’ billion dollar divorce could be as quick and easy as an Amazon delivery, as news headlines like to point out, or it could be more drawn out and less amicable. Only time will tell.

Choosing to Cooperate for the Greater Good

Many spouses are such good friends that divorcing amicably is the natural option. Still, regardless of how amicable spouses are, with a divorce this high stakes, planning and fairness is of paramount importance. More than just the marriage is at stake, but the future of the company, and there are so many factors to consider. With publicity affecting the price of shares, even the divorce announcement may not be as spontaneous as it seems. Did the Bezoses sit down with a mediator before announcing their divorce? It seems the couple doesn’t have a prenup, so it’s likely that the couple has been strategic about their options. At Boileau Conflict Solutions we have offices in Silicon Valley where we often mediate the divorces of those with complex lives where personal and business concerns are entwined. We have special expertise in high-level financial analysis combined with a psychoanalytical view of personal concern. We can resolve complex concerns into simple solution sets using tools like game theory and communication theory. Divorcing couples can be satisfied that the whole landscape of their divorce, including the future of any business, is being accounted for and built into the divorce plan.

Let’s take a quick look at the concerns founders like the Bezoses might be facing, and how mediation could help:

The future of the business – Can couples come to a compromise on the future of the business and still not lose out? The Bezoses could divide their shares in the business equally, or they could agree to change the voting structure of the shares so that power isn’t handed over wholesale. In mediation, personal and business concerns can be delicately balanced.
Who deserves what? — The Bezoses’ marriage spans the history of Amazon, including its humble beginnings. Even if spouses aren’t overtly involved in the company, they may have been supportive of the founder spouse. They may have taken on the burden of raising kids or sacrificed time with their spouse. The benefit of mediation is that it can craft agreements based on more than shared assets. At BCS we specialize on valuation in divorce and business, but we can also consider non-financial assets and interests based on psychoanalytical concerns and consideration of time and talent.
Publicity and shareholder confidence — A high profile founder divorce can spell an uncertain future for companies, so it’s imperative that publicity surrounding the divorce is handled delicately. A divorcing couple may need to work with a mediator to straighten out their strategy and present a united front to the public, rather than rocking shareholder confidence.
Coping with divorce as a CEO — A sense of company destiny and leadership may be more difficult to maintain during a divorce, and CEOs may need support in managing personal struggles. Mediation can help to design a strategy for coping with divorce as a CEO, including being strategic about time off or nominating trustworthy delegates during the divorce.
Taking care of both spouses — The wealth and power dynamic can be uneven when divorces involve business or are high stakes. Mediation can be a process of understanding how to compensate for one partner’s dependency and provide a roadmap for their eventual financial and emotional independence.

How We Can Help

We are caring, well-educated mediators who are skilled in applied financial mathematics, the law psychoanalysis, and game theory. We strive to efficiently comprehend your situation and its opportunities for sustainable and agreeable resolution. We can either confidentially present you with a private analysis, or mediate the conflict with both of you until resolved. Any resolution you come to will be informed by a deeper analysis of the conflict that can be psychoanalytic and/or more financially-focused. Conflict analysis can result in a more optimized understanding of the net community property, which adds value to the overall estate, benefiting you both. Our specially trained divorce mediator-accountants can also help reveal and investigate the proven financial facts of a divorce to make a full financial appraisal of your divorce and to suggest creative solutions for financial planning after divorce. As well as mediating divorces we also mediate business disputes, including business divorces, which can require similar attention to assets, valuation and personal relationships. Our high-level divorce mediation services are tailored to the needs of people with complex lives or divorces that may be difficult or protracted. We work with individuals from several cultures and countries, and can help with national and international relocation issues associated with divorce. You can visit us at our offices in Campbell, CA, Irvine, CA and San Diego, CA. We can also be reached by Telephone, Zoom or Facetime. We are available 7 days a week and at urgent notice. Please contact us to see how we can help.

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