Recently, I took a trip to California to visit an old friend of mine from high school. He’s currently living in San Francisco after taking a job with Google a year ago, so we found time to catch up last week, as I was already attending a pair of conferences on the West Coast — the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.
Come August, my friend is getting married, so naturally we fell into conversation over drinks about relationships and the power dynamics within them. We talked about the density of beautiful women in California and the importance of self-control in monogamous relationships.
At some point this led to a lighthearted debate about whether or not an open relationship could ever really work. My friend entertained the notion that some couples need non-monogamy. I decried the idea, arguing that an open relationship is nothing more than friends with benefits, dressed up in a tuxedo and gown.
As the alcohol flowed, we fell further into “locker room talk.” My jovial conclusion was that women secretly ruled the world behind the scenes. It’s an idea my friend couldn’t help but laugh at, yet we both agreed there’s some underlying truth to the notion. After all, life is built on the process of natural selection, and, at least in the case of most species, females take up the role of the selector.
As for how any of this is relevant to the market, I couldn’t help but view our conversation through the lens of recent events. In case you haven’t heard by now, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos recently announced that he and wife MacKenzie Bezos will be undergoing a divorce, and, with that split in limbo, the market has been wondering exactly what it means for the world’s most valuable company.
As it stands, the general consensus is that MacKenzie Bezos is legally entitled to half of the $140 billion Amazon fortune. The market remains focused on the potential consequences this will have on voting power at Amazon, but in all likelihood, Jeff will maintain those rights.
At the end of the day, voting power is a distraction from what really matters, and that’s Jeff’s ability to continue running Amazon with the same level of efficiency we’ve come to expect. Divorce, it turns out, can spark serious emotional trauma, enough so to throw off even the world’s most powerful CEOs.
Take what recently happened with Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk. In early 2018, the eccentric billionaire split with actress Amber Heard, only to latch on to musician Grimes a few months later.
At risk of seeming superficial, visual context helps. Elon went from dating this classy lady:
To this mess of a human being:
Around this time is when Musk started to really go off the rails (are you really so surprised?).
The CEO called a man on Twitter a pedophile without evidence, smoked a joint on the Joe Rogan Podcast, broke out into tears on 60 Minutes, and ultimately lost his seat on Tesla’s board of directors after falsely announcing that “funding [was] secured” for a private takeout at $420 a share.
Consequently, Tesla’s share price suffered dramatically during this time, sinking from as high as $370 a share to as low as $250.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that Musk’s behavior during this time was being influenced behind the scenes by Grimes. Earlier this week, interestingly enough, a court granted the motion to serve subpoenas to Grimes in a lawsuit relating to the “funding secured” tweet, so it’s safe to assume she was involved to some extent.
Was Elon desperately trying to impress Grimes as he dealt with the loss of Amber Heard? Was he lashing out at shorts because his ego was in damage control mode? Obviously, we can only speculate, but I think those are fairly reasonable conclusions.
Women, it turns out, wield the power to make men do some pretty stupid things (intentionally or not).
Still, that’s just one piece of anecdotal evidence, so let’s look at what the research has to say.
According to Wheatley, Vogt, and Murrell (1991), 37% of companies report that employee divorce negatively impacts firm productivity.
According to Neyland (2012), total CEO compensation increases following divorce (boards react to offset the CEO’s loss of wealth), and the cost of that usually comes at the direct expense of shareholders.
And according to Larcker, McCall, and Tayan (2013), divorce can affect the productivity, concentration, and energy levels of the CEO. In fact, one of Larcker’s findings is that divorce is often even a catalyst for accelerated resignation or retirement.
As for how this will all play out for Jeff Bezos, time will ultimately tell, but it’s safe to say that the unprecedented breakup adds at least some level of risk to Amazon shareholders. So far, the market has not priced any of this in, with shares up 13.9% year to date.
Now, maybe I’m reaching here a bit by digging into the tabloids, but Lauren Sanchez smells like trouble for Bezos.
For one, former football player and Sanchez’s ex-fiancé Anthony Miller claims she cheated on him and cannot be trusted. Exes can be spiteful, of course, but considering that Sanchez was having an affair with Bezos right under husband Patrick Whitesell’s nose, the characterization doesn’t seem so outlandish.
Now, I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger…
But when sources close to Sanchez say, “She’s got an uncanny ability to make people do anything — she’s very persuasive — both intentionally and unintentionally,” that should be enough to raise the alarm for investors.
I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger…
But when she’s sending her friends “dick pics” from the world’s richest man (I’m not making this up) and putting his reputation at risk, that should give you a pretty good idea where both of their heads are at.
So, Amazon investors, you’ve been be warned.
As the saying goes, behind every great man, there’s a great woman. MacKenzie Bezos was behind Jeff for the last two decades. Now, it’s Lauren Sanchez.
Take from that what you will, and invest accordingly.
Until next time, Jason Stutman
Until next time,