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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Former Amazon Executive Dies in Bicycle Accident

Joy Covey, 50, a pioneering tech executive, was killed Wednesday when her bicycle collided with a delivery van in a remote stretch of Silicon Valley.

Ms. Covey joined Amazon.com when it was a newly hatched dot-com with big ideas. As its chief financial officer, she played an important role in turning those ideas into a reality. She helped take the company public and was a much-quoted advocate for Amazon’s plans to ignore Wall Street and invest for the future. That radical notion has been the foundation for Amazon’s growth into a $61 billion retailing and entertainment behemoth.

Ms. Covey, an avid bicyclist and outdoorswoman, died at the scene of the accident, which was on Skyline Boulevard, the road that runs down the hills from San Francisco toward San Jose.

The police said that a minivan apparently making deliveries for OnTrac, a shipping service used by Amazon and other retailers, was turning into a side road when the accident occurred. The police said that neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to be a factor in the collision.

“It appears the driver was making deliveries, but we’re still working on our investigation,” said Art Montiel, a California Highway Patrol spokesman.

OnTrac, which is based in Phoenix, said the van was driven by a 22-year-old “contract driver.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family affected by this tragic accident,” said Laura Peterson, OnTrac’s vice president of marketing.

Mary Osako, an Amazon spokeswoman, said: “It’s a very sad day at Amazon. Joy was a wonderful human being and treasured colleague, and we will miss her very much.”

In its early days, Amazon prided itself on its unconventional hires, telling staffing agencies to “send us your freaks.” Ms. Covey did not have a traditional background. She dropped out of high school at age 15 and worked as a grocery clerk. She attended Cal State Fresno and later, Harvard Law School, where, she said, she did not fit in.

“We’d go to lunch and people would talk about their favorite 17th-century poets, and I’d be thinking, ‘Could I even name five poets? From any century?’ ” she once said.

But after joining Amazon in late 1996, when its revenue was less than $20 million, she thrived. She sold Wall Street the debt that the company needed to expand. Her personal wealth in the company was worth more than $200 million.

As the senior woman in a red-hot company at a time when all things Internet were new and interesting, Ms. Covey drew attention far in excess of what a typical chief financial officer garnered.

In one profile, headlined “A Real Amazon,” Forbes wrote: “One morning she flew to an early analyst meeting and realized too late that she had left her dress shoes on the plane. So she eyed women in the baggage claim area, spotted a suitable pair worn by one of them â€" and approached with a $120 cash offer for the emergency footwear. The stranger said no but offered a second pair from her suitcase. Done.”

Ms. Covey left Amazon in 2000, as the dot-com boom was ending. Survivors include a young son.