Joy Covey dies at 50; as CFO, she helped take public

Joy Covey dies at 50; as CFO, she helped take public
Joy Covey is shown with Thomas Ascher, left, and William Brodsky of the Chicago Board Options Exchange in 1997 on the first day of trading options for Covey did not finish high school but rose to become CFO of Amazon. (John Zich / Chicago Board Options Exchange)

Joy Covey, who helped take Inc. public as the Internet retailer's chief financial officer, died Wednesday when her bicycle collided with a van on a downhill stretch of road in San Mateo County. She was 50.

Covey, who had been riding her bicycle down Skyline Boulevard near Portola Valley, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Art Montiel, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol in Redwood City. The San Mateo County coroner's office confirmed her identity. Covey, who lived in Woodside, was wearing a helmet when she collided with a delivery van that was turning from the highway onto a side road. The CHP is investigating the accident.


At Amazon, which Covey 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 in 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 on May 14, 1997, with an initial public offering price of $18. Shares closed Wednesday at a record $312.06.

In 1999, Fortune magazine named 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.

Joy Dianne Covey was born April 25, 1963, in Boston and grew up in San Mateo. She didn't finish high school, moving away from home at 15 and working as a grocery clerk in Fresno, according to a 2002 interview with the Harvard Law Bulletin.

She graduated in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in business administration from Cal State Fresno and began her career as an accountant, then received a law degree and an MBA from Harvard University in 1989.

In 1991 she joined Digidesign Inc., a Menlo Park-based digital audio software maker, and as CFO guided its IPO and 1995 sale to Avid Technology Inc., according to Forbes magazine. She moved to Boston to work for Avid but soon was back in Silicon Valley. When she started working at Amazon, she won 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.

She 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.

Covey moved from CFO to chief strategy officer in April 1999 and left Amazon in April 2000 to become an independent investor and business consultant. She was recently a trustee at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

Her son, Tyler, is among her survivors.