Jeff Bezos was born into family “wealth” in Albuquerque, but not the monetary kind.
That’s how the Amazon founder and CEO described his humble New Mexico roots in his opening comments in virtual testimony before a U.S. House antitrust subcommittee Wednesday. The panel is investigating whether companies such as Amazon, Apple and Facebook have too much power and harm competition.
Bezos, 56, told lawmakers he was born to a teenage mother in Albuquerque. Forbes magazine lists him as the world’s wealthiest person, with his wealth estimated at $180 billion.
“It was difficult for her,” he said. “When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After some negotiation, the principal said, ‘OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.'”
Bezos said his grandfather “took the deal” and his mother, Jackie Gise, who was 17 at the time, was allowed to finish school.
But he told lawmakers his mother “wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her classmates to get her diploma.”
His testimony did not mention where Jackie attended high school.
“Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class,” he said.
Bezos said his mother “would show up with two duffel bags – one full of textbooks and one packed with diapers, bottles, and anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes.”
In his testimony, Bezos said his adopted father, Cuban immigrant Miguel Bezos, “received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my mom.”
“You get different gifts in life, and one of my great gifts is my mom and dad,” he said. “They have been incredible role models for me and my siblings our entire lives.”
Bezos said Miguel adopted him when he was 4. According to his biography, the family moved to Houston after Miguel graduated from the University of New Mexico and went to work as an engineer for Exxon.
Bezos was born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen. His biological father, Ted Jorgensen, owned a bike shop.
During his congressional testimony, Bezos also discussed the humble beginnings of Amazon, which he started 26 years ago after walking away from a job with a New York investment firm.
Bezos said he started with the “long-term mission of making it Earth’s most customer-centric company.”