Jeff Bezos has called Blue Origin his life’s most important work – and the hours he is devoting to the space company are growing accordingly.
Historically, Bezos had dedicated Wednesday afternoons to either updates and discussions at Blue Origin, people familiar with the situation told CNBC – meetings which were in person before the Covid pandemic, and have been by phone since. However, within the past month he added Tuesday afternoons as well, those people said.
While Bezos’ increased engagement with the company has been previously reported, just how much he’s involved with Blue Origin has not. As one of the richest people in the world, and still involved at Amazon as the company’s executive chairman, demands on Bezos’ time are high, so spending twice as much time with his space company represents a significant added commitment.
Blue Origin and Bezos did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
His doubled effort comes at a critical moment in Blue Origin’s history: The company is locked in a fierce court battle over NASA’s award of a multi-billion dollar lunar lander contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a key customer of its BE-4 rocket engines is becoming increasingly vocal after years of delay, Blue Origin’s first orbital rocket is similarly years behind schedule, and its suborbital space research and tourism business is now underway in earnest.
Blue Origin’s technology development is also facing a new obstacle in the form of departing top talent, as CNBC reported in August. Disagreements with decisions made by Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith was the most common reason for why senior leaders and engineers are leaving, people familiar told CNBC. Smith is a former Honeywell executive, who Bezos hired to run the company in 2017.
The added time at Blue Origin partially represents a renewed focus for Bezos. For example, one person told CNBC that he used to hold an annual, company-wide question and answer session with employees – but didn’t in 2020, and has yet to this year.
It’s unclear whether Bezos is also investing more heavily in Blue Origin. In 2017, he said he was selling $1 billion a year of his Amazon stock to fund Blue Origin’s development, but recently Bezos has increased those stake sales without indicating whether all of those funds are going to the space company.
Bezos, who stepped down as Amazon CEO in July, is also paying attention to how the two companies he founded might interact. Blue Origin senior leadership has held regular meetings about winning the contracts to launch Amazon’s Project Kuiper internet satellites, people familiar told CNBC. But, after United Launch Alliance – the rocket-building joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin – won the first Amazon launch deal earlier this year, Bezos has begun sitting in on Blue Origin’s Kuiper meetings, those people said.
Amazon, when it announced the ULA nine-launch contract in April, emphasized that multiple launch partners will be required to launch the 3,235 Kuiper satellites. That leaves the door open for Blue Origin to grab the next one – this time, perhaps, with the help of the man who knows Amazon better than anyone else on the planet.