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Amazon CEO almost a billionaire

Jeff Bezos earned just $79,197 last year and received no bonus or stock options--but he's still almost a billionaire.

Despite the sharp run-up in Amazon.com's stock, chief executive Jeff Bezos earned just $79,197 last year and received no bonus or stock options--but he's still almost a billionaire.

The 34-year-old Princeton University graduate owns 9.885 million shares in the online bookseller--a stake that is worth $937.8 million, at least on paper, based on Friday's closing price of Amazon.com stock at 94.875. The stock has traded as high as 100 and as low as 15.75 in the last 52 weeks.

Amazon.com closed at 94.25 today, down .66.

The compensation figures were included in the company's annual proxy statement, filed Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Mr. Bezos's compensation was considerably less than would have been waranted by the company's performance during Turning to a global page 1997 and Mr. Bezos's very significant contribution to that performance," the proxy said. "However, due to Mr. Bezos's substantial ownership in the company (approximately 41 percent), the company did not provide him with additional compensation during 1997."

Bezos's compensation was the lowest of Amazon.com's six most well-paid executives. In 1996, Bezos earned $64,333, and he received no options or bonus for that year. The Seattle-based company went public last May at $18 per share.

Bezos's enormous wealth reflects a trend that has amazed many longtime stock observers, putting young entrepreneurs in an elite category of American captains of industry--often while their companies still aren't making any money.

Amazon.com has become a flag-bearer for the promise of electronic commerce, and all of the company's stockholders--not just Bezos--are benefiting. Most compensation experts agree that this is the fairest way to pay top executives.

The venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers holds 2.7 million Why Wall Street loves Amazon.com shares of Amazon.com, the proxy shows. Bezos's compensation is consistent with that of other Kleiner Perkins-based companies.

As previously reported, Netscape chief executive Jim Barksdale, who earned only $1 last year, also elected this month to return to the company a stock option grant of 300,000 shares. Barksdale owns a 4.9 percent stake in Netscape, however, providing huge wealth.

Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr is a director of both Amazon.com and Netscape.

At its stockholders meeting on May 28, Amazon.com shareholders will be asked to approve a proposal to increase the authorized common stock of the company from 100 million to 300 million shares.