Joy Covey, chief financial officer of Amazon.com, dies at 50


Joy Covey, chief financial officer of Seattle-based Amazon.com, Inc., in November 1997 with Thomas Ascher, left, vice chairman, and William Brodsky, chief executive officer of the stock exchange. (John Zich/Associated Press)
September 21, 2013

Joy Covey, who helped take Amazon.com public as the Internet retailer’s chief financial officer, died Sept. 18 after colliding with a minivan while riding her bicycle near Portola Valley, Calif. She was 50.

She was pronounced dead at the scene. The San Mateo County Coroner’s Office confirmed her identity. Ms. Covey, who lived in Woodside, Calif., was wearing a helmet, said Art Montiel, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol in Redwood City.

At Amazon, which she joined in December 1996, she served as CFO, then chief strategy officer, in the pioneering days of Internet retailing.

Her tasks included persuading investors to be patient as Amazon endured money-losing years on its way to becoming the dominant online seller, according to a 1999 Wall Street Journal story.

“Except on an occasional basis when it is critical for me to deal with Wall Street, she makes it possible for me to spend a lot more of my time on the customer experience,” Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said of Ms. Covey, according to the article. “But her job is not only in the CFO capacity, but somewhat broader and deeper in communicating our message to investors, which is so important to our future.”

Amazon went public May 14, 1997, with an initial public offering price of $18. Shares closed yesterday at a record $312.06.

In 1999, Fortune magazine placed Ms. Covey on a list of the 50 most powerful women. “As CFO, her feat was convincing Wall Street that a profitless company was worth $22 billion,” the magazine wrote.

In a 2002 interview with the Harvard Law Bulletin, Ms. Covey recalled her Amazon years: “Our view was that most companies depart from their best long-term business thinking in order to please Wall Street. And they often do things that are not in the best long-term interest of the business because they’re under pressure from investors for short-term results.”

Joy Dianne Covey was born April 25, 1963, in Boston and grew up in San Mateo, Calif. Her father was a doctor.

She did not finish high school, moving away from home at 15 and working as a grocery clerk in Fresno, Calif., according to the Harvard interview.

She graduated in 1982 from California State University in Fresno and began her career as an accountant at Arthur Young LLP, working for clients including Denny’s restaurants, according to the Journal. She graduated from Harvard Law School’s joint JD-MBA program in 1989.

Before joining Amazon, she worked for an investment firm and for technology companies. At Amazon, she received permission to stay in California and commute to company headquarters in Seattle.

When she joined Amazon, it had 150 employees and $16 million in sales. As of December, the company had 88,400 employees and $61 billion in revenue.

Ms. Covey took a salary of less than $100,000 in favor of stock options that, as of 1999, gave her a net worth exceeding $200 million, according to Forbes magazine.

She moved from CFO to chief strategy officer in April 1999 and left Amazon in April 2000. She was named to JetBlue Airways’ board of directors in 2003.

She later became a trustee at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. A pilot, she helped rescue orphaned grizzlies and other animals.

Survivors include a son.

(Washington Post editor’s note: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has agreed to buy The Washington Post newspaper.)

— Bloomberg News

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