Steve Jobs’s philanthropy

By Felix Salmon
August 30, 2011
Andrew Ross Sorkin takes a look at the private life of Apple's chairman today, passing on rumors about activity he clearly doesn't want publicized, in the face of stony silence from Apple.

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Andrew Ross Sorkin takes a look at the private life of Apple’s chairman today, passing on rumors about activity he clearly doesn’t want publicized, in the face of stony silence from Apple. But hey, Sorkin’s a journalist, I guess that’s what journalists do.

The column is headlined “The Mystery of Steve Jobs’s Public Giving,” but really there’s no mystery at all: there is no public giving from Steve Jobs. Sorkin isn’t happy about this. “Most American billionaires have taken up philanthropy in a public way and helped inspire future generations of charitable giving,” he writes, concluding that “perhaps” in future years Jobs might “inspire his legions of admirers to give.”

Some of Sorkin’s points are good ones. There’s no good reason, for instance, for Jobs failing to reinstate Apple’s philanthropic programs, which he cut on the grounds of wanting “to restore the company’s profitability.” Similarly, Apple’s failure to match its employees’ charitable giving does make it stand out — and not in a good way — from its Silicon Valley peers.

I think this is maybe a downside of Jobs’s famous micromanaging: if he’s personally not interested in something, then his entire company becomes uninterested in it.

Now there are good reasons why Jobs might not be much of a philanthropist, at least in public. For one thing, it’s far from clear that seeing billionaires give away lots of money and put their names on hospital wings does any good at all in terms of inspiring other people to make charitable donations. So if a private man like Jobs wants to make his charitable donations privately or anonymously, I don’t see much if any harm in that. And the coverage of Jobs in recent days is proof positive that he’s hardly in need of good press.

On top of that, effective philanthropy is hard work. Just ask Bill Gates. If it’s as difficult to give away money as it is to make it, and if you’re already stretched between making Apple insanely great, spending time with your family, and dealing with personal health issues, then it’s reasonable not to even try on the philanthropy front.

The sad fact of the matter is that Jobs’s wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, will almost certainly outlive him; what’s more, she is more familiar with the philanthropic world than he is, sitting on the boards of Teach for America and the New Schools Venture Fund, among others. Jobs is a technology visionary; that doesn’t make him a great philanthropist. Maybe he’s simply and lovingly trusting his wife to be able to take care of such things after he’s gone. That would be a very admirable and selfless act.

36 comments

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I’ve read a lot of dumb stuff online, but this takes the fruitcake. You have no idea how much has been given anonymously, you have no idea how much cash is in his account — What’s his salary from Apple? Oh, a dollar?
Perhaps he’s waiting for tax rates to go up where they should be so that he gets full measure of any available tax deduction.
Of all the things worth writing about, this is pretty low on the list. Sorry, but what’s the point?
The most admirable form of giving is that which is done without fanfare, without drawing attention to oneself, which seems to be a value too little shared by commentators these days.

Posted by Ira-in-LA | Report as abusive

“Andrew Ross Sorkin takes a look at the private life of Apple’s chairman today, passing on rumors about activity he clearly doesn’t want publicized, in the face of stony silence from Apple. But hey, Sorkin’s a journalist, I guess that’s what journalists do.”

I’m genuinely curious about how you reconcile this distaste with your belief that journalists should cover Tim Cook’s sexuality. You laid out a lot of compelling reasons why they should – but at the same time, you have to admit that it’s a) his private life, b) he doesn’t seem to want it publicized, and c) Apple has been similarly silent on the issue. So how is what Sorkin is doing with the philanthropy issue different than what you were urging people to do with Cook’s sexuality?

Posted by KyleDeas | Report as abusive

I quote agree with Kyle: there seems to be a very odd double standard at work here. And given your CEObituary of Jobs last week, I am inclined to attribute it to your personal feelings concerning Jobs, and a misplaced believe that he may not be criticized.

Posted by Foppe | Report as abusive

believe=belief*

Posted by Foppe | Report as abusive

I never hear Jobs whining about paying taxes, either at the personal or corporate level, unlike a lot of wealthy philanthropists who only will give away money when they get their name on something.

Jobs’ wife does make contributions, but I don’t think she publicizes them, and as Ira mentioned, some people do make charitable contributions anonymously.

Also, it’s a full time job to give away millions of dollars without wasting it, let alone hundreds of millions. You know Jobs is not going to do anything unless he can do it right.

Most of Jobs’ wealth is in Disney and Apple stock. He could sell those shares, but then there would be criticism of him bailing on those companies (and can you see him selling his stock in Apple now? I can’t).

If Sorkin wants to criticize greedy selfish people, he doesn’t have to venture far from his office. His neighborhood is full of people who have extracted tens of billions of dollars of wealth from the economy without adding any value back to society. And he gives a lot of them a pass on their (at best) questionable behavior.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Also, the lesson of Berkshire/Hathaway must be remembered when it comes to corporate (rather than personal) matching-funds giving.

Berkshire USED to allow the class A shareholders to designate a charity for donations from Berkshire (by making it direct from Berkshire, it increases the tax efficiency involved, and would not be possible otherwise anyway because Berkshire doesn’t issue a dividend). They don’t anymore.

Simply because some charities can be controversial. If an employee gives to a charity and the company matches it, now the company is explicitly endorsing that charity.

So if employees chose to donate to Planned Parenthood, or the Calguns Foundation (a 501(c)3 focusing on second Amendment issues), the company is now on the line for any politiical pushback if the company offers matching funds for all donations.

And if the company only offers matching funds only for approved charities, but one controversial one is on the list but others are not, the company is once again on the line for political pushback.

Thus, for a large company, there is no winning but only losing when matching employee charitable donations.

Posted by NicholasWeaver | Report as abusive

Felix old bean, you appear to be arguing that wives ought to die before their husbands.

Posted by ACMurray | Report as abusive

According to Reuter’s, as of last year Apple had more than 46,000 employees, most of them in America (remember, they outsource manufacturing). Many of them have been added to the retail side over the past 5 years.

I don’t give a crap how much of his fortune Steve Jobs gives to charity because I am much more concerned right now with how many Americans have jobs.

Apple has created wealth, spurred growth, and given the world an example of outstanding American innovation that they see every day.

It’s okay for Sorkin to point out that Jobs isn’t Gandhi. Yes, that is his job. But I don’t have to care. And I don’t.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

With all due respect, I think that we need to remove Jobs from the pedestal of ivory that many have placed him upon. First of all, he might be a visionary but it is the team that makes a product from a vision, makes it revolutionary and most importantly makes it deliverable.

Also, if anyone is old enough to remember his history and how he has treated employess (including his origanl partner Woz), the women in his life and some of his unmentioned offspring, I think folks would bring him down to the status of “mortal”.

He is not a great corporate citizen either, especially when one considers that he tries to simultaneously lock up the hardware, the software and the content — an even more draconian mantra than found at Microsoft. Where’s the love and where is the open spirit of the net in that approach?

With his ego (and temper), I would not expect him to put his company at the forefront of any philanthropic activity without being able to control it from the outset.

Posted by ZZ-Top | Report as abusive

ZZ-Top, if anyone put Jobs on a pedestal you are right, he should come down immediately. He’s not a saint, nor has he ever claimed to be. His private life? Don’t care.

As for the vision being a “team” thing, I think you’re wrong. Vision is singular. The visionary explains what he/she wants. The team executes. If they get it wrong, visionary yells and screams. Team tries again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is why I don’t think Apple will be a world-beater for more than 5 years after Jobs’ departure. But while his vision is still in the pipeline, the alchemy should work pretty well.

Frankly, philanthropy is way over-rated by the lefty do-gooders of the world. Charity as in keeping people alive or getting food/medicine/clean water to people who lack these things–this is noble and best done by religious organizations or practitioners (MSF for doctors; Red Cross for nursing/disaster relief).

What do rich philanthropists do well? Well, they’re really good at taking care of the things they know and care about best: the arts, universities, sometimes the environment. Where they stray from their core competencies, however, they tend to squander resources. What does the MacArthur Foundation or Rockefeller actually DO for the world? Would anyone much miss them if they disappeared? There are exceptions: Carnegie set up libraries around the world. At the time this made a huge difference to poor people. Now? Time for a fresh idea.

I think we tend to conflate the act of giving large sums of cash with “doing good” when in the fact the two are not the same at all. And I for one am sick to death of people who cannot or will not distinguish between the two.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

LadyG – Private Life and Public Life are two sides of the same coin — to distance one from the other is to create a mass moral dilemma.

How far would you go to “accept” a degenerate of any form as a corporate mentor, visionary or your leader? Also, I clearly stated the vision model. It is the team who translates the vision into reality, sometimes in spite of the visionary.

Screaming and flogging the team to achieve some asymptote of implied perfecton is neither coll nor does it make for a nice workplace. It is exactly that kind of thinking that allows a Bill Clinton and a whole hoard of elected officials to break the law with impunity.

Posted by ZZ-Top | Report as abusive

“she is more familiar with the philanthropic world than he is, sitting on the boards of Teach for America and the New Schools Venture Fund,”

I call b*llsh*t. The “philanthropy” of TfA is to steal public education dollars. If that’s your justification for “things will go well after he’s gone,” any disparaging remark ARSorkin made should be trebled.

Posted by klhoughton | Report as abusive

Ah, so now Jobs is a “degenerate?” Where’s your proof?

If Jobs were truly a tyrant at work I doubt he would have been able to attract and keep the best and the brightest in the field. Geniuses are often difficult. But if they repel collaborators they can’t achieve much on a grand scale. And Apple is now about the grandest scale one person can hope to build in a single lifetime.

As for the Bill Clinton thing, well, there you’re totally on your own. I have no idea what you are trying to say.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

LadyG – Clearly you spend more time being reactive than listening… You are also very naive if you think that tyrants can’t keep good folks around them for significnt periods of time. That is the power of money and stock options. Also ask yourself why Steve Wozniak doesn’t work for/with Jobs anymore?

As far as my Clinton point is concerned — he and his bretheren represent the problem with ignoring one side of the “coin” when deciding whether a person should be a leader in government or in the corporate world.

When you are willing to ignore character for profit, you have already lost the long-term game.

Posted by ZZ-Top | Report as abusive

IF Jobs is a tyrant at work? My God, have you read anything written about his tenure at Apple written in the last 20 years?

Posted by gwaitersesq | Report as abusive

ZZT,
Here is what I know (strictly based on what I’ve read) about Mr. Wozniak. Since leaving Apple he has never been involved with another venture or profitable company. He buys big yachts, big mansions, and a big baseball team. He has started some kind of tech museum. All fine, but essentially useless. Not much “for the greater good” there either. He has profited handsomely from Jobs’ labor (post their startup phase). When Jobs was thrown out of Apple he started two companies, one of which became wildly successful. When he returned to Apple he started a 14 year tear of historic successes. See the difference?

If Jobs were a tyrant wouldn’t there have been at least one lawsuit? Wouldn’t someone have written a tell all memoir? And don’t call me naive if you cannot come up with one iota of evidence to back up your outlandish claims.

Historically speaking, men of high character (as you call them) have rarely created businesses of any value, though they have quite frequently run them aground. I would never conflate the actions of private businessmen (provided they were legal) and those of politicians as you seem inclined to do. And why is it that critics of Clinton’s morals (which I would never defend) always stop with Monica Lewinsky and the tawdry black dress? Clinton’s greatest crimes were financial, but few Republicans ever call him out for repealing Glass-Steagall.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

LadyGodiva:

“Here is what I know (strictly based on what I’ve read) about Mr. Wozniak.”

Your description indicates that you’re the person you’re writing about is Paul Allen, not Steve Wozniak.

Posted by gwaitersesq | Report as abusive

Gwaitersesq,
Woops! My bad.

I’m sure someone will fill me in on the Wozniak details so I can see what a fiend Jobs truly is.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

Yes, it looks like Wozniak really hates Tyrant Steve Jobs.

“Greatest tech leader of our times.”

Feel the hate.

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/08/a pple-wozniak-jobs-resigns/

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

I can’t figure out if you’re an MBA student who worships at the altar of Businessweek hagiographies or just a crank that’s injected his/herself in the middle of a discussion and then claimed complete ignorance as to what is being discussed.

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=steve+wozniak

Posted by gwaitersesq | Report as abusive

This is so clearly biased and illogical on so many levels. Philanthropy is the thing pushed not by ‘lefty do-gooders’ so much as by the right who want it to replace their obligation to pay taxes for the greater good because then they can choose to give less to charity than they would have done in taxes, but have their names in lights to show how selfless and worthy they are.

As for ‘keeping people alive or getting food/medicine/clean water to people who lack these things’ being ‘best done’ by religious groups, that’s just ideological nonsense: religious charities usually have an axe to grind: true charity is blind to religion and helps all, no strings attached. The two examples of good organisations you mentioned are both completely areligious and are good because of that. I am sure they would be aghast at having their names used to support your peculiarly misguided dogma.

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive

My last comment aimed at LadyGodiva (the quote got left out). Here is what I was commenting on:

“Frankly, philanthropy is way over-rated by the lefty do-gooders of the world. Charity as in keeping people alive or getting food/medicine/clean water to people who lack these things–this is noble and best done by religious organizations or practitioners (MSF for doctors; Red Cross for nursing/disaster relief).”

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive

I’m a big fan of Apple and what Jobs has done for innovation, but Rich Karlgaard’s assessment of Steve Jobs psyche may help explain this:

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB11150 9083186723020-email,00.html

Posted by Polycapitalist | Report as abusive

He gives jobs to China

Posted by Laumilo | Report as abusive

FifthDecade,
Anyone who thinks religious charities only give support to co-religionists needs help getting his head out of his ass.

The Red Cross is “areligious”? Is that why it’s a Red Crescent in Muslim societies? Must be.

And you, like some of the other fine folk on this thread, miss my overall argument completely: Steve Jobs’ philanthropy does not matter at all, his morals don’t matter at all. He built a company that creates wealth and jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans (and Chinese and Europeans, and any other capitalist or human being who chooses to buy or invest or work for the company). THAT is superior (yeah, I said it) to rich people who give a lot more to “charities,” the object of which is usually obscure and lost in the mists of time, especially if they made their money in ways that did NOT contribute to the real economy of this or any other country.

I’ll end with this thought: to share the wealth, you first have to create the wealth. Creating the wealth can be done in ways that promote the general welfare or it can be done in ways that actually undermine it. I don’t want the latter groups’ money. Do you?

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

The Red Cross is called that because it was founded by a Swiss man who decided to use an inverted version of the Swiss National Flag (a small white cross on a red background) so the end result was a small Red Cross on a white background. It had nothing to do with religion at all, but many religions could take a page out of the Red Cross’s book on impartiality in the giving of humanitarian aid.

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive

LadyGodiva, your point is morals don’t matter? You really made a point there … but I heartily disagree.

Words really do matter. Hate is a strong word. A lot of people really disliked Jobs. It was a strong dislike and a lot of people worked with him and didn’t respect him yet they respected his work. (or power and/or his money and position) You can separate the two when you have to. (Well some can)

People with little empathy can’t buy it and it doesn’t rub off. Add to that the same narcissistic drive that seems to make politicians, actors and CEOs successful. at work and you have men like Jobs. Looking at the man as a whole, his character might be lacking, even though the hero worship for “love” of the products might raise him up a bit in stature.

In other words he is the kind of man that should use his money for a little PR … and good will. The toys and trinkets should not be all that matters and all one gives back to the world.

The Red Crescent is a recognizable symbol to protect the workers and volunteers from being targeted when in war zones. Sheesh…

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

FifthDecade,
No legitimate charity ever has or ever will deny assistance based on race, creed or politics. Why you refuse to revisit that assumption is beyond me, but it renders your value judgments on international relief organizations moot.

hsvkitty,
Lack of empathy is not the same thing as immorality. Great leaders are not always liked, or haven’t you brushed up on your Machiavelli recently? You may not like the man and you may choose not to buy the products his company makes based on your opinion of him and your disapproval of his charitable giving habits (at least as they are reported in the media).

I guess you would rather buy an inferior product of a company with a generous leader? Well, that’s your prerogative, just as it is Jobs’ prerogative not to give a toss for your opinion.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

@LadyGodivaLack of empathy is not the same thing as immorality? Who the heck said that it was? You said morality doesn’t matter and I disagreed. It does and it should.

And great leader in YOUR eyes, not mine. Jobs could stand on a pile of every product he has made and still not elevate himself.

I actually have nothing from Apple in my home. Most of my computer equipment is made from scraps and reused until it can’t be. It is a mishmash of recycles and will continue to be as it seems there is a never ending stream of upgrade items available to fill landfills and Chinese roadsides.

I am one of those weirdos who doesn’t need to Geek out and have the next thing and sleep in a tent to be the first in line to have it. Therefore I will happily take that “old” item of yours that works just fine, but is of course “inferior” to the newest and best.

I do not feel the need to hero worship a “great leader” like Jobs because he makes expensive toys people feel they can’t live without. To me that is a really sad legacy.

I wouldn’t wish Jobs to care a whiff about my opinion, but my word is my bond and I am more charitable than most, so I don’t feel at all guilty about expressing it. I was taught to be giving and charitable always, not just as a good will gesture to open the heavens or leave a legacy.

I would think now would be a good time for Jobs to carry out the good will he intended to accomplish in his plan for the future, being he didn’t have time while he worked. It is a perfect time for such reflection and that isn’t merely my opinion.

http://succcess.org/category/definition/

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Well, as interesting as this trolling exercise has been to rebuff, how about some real facts for a change?
25 of the US’s top execs get paid more than their company’s pay to the US tax man:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14737 174

Not only that, the firms often pay more on lobbying than they do in taxes. The IPS study shows Boeing as paying over $20 million to lobbyists, $13 million in tax.

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive

The notion that wealthy people are somehow obligated to share their money with the “less fortunate” is just that…a notion. My life of experience tells me the people on the receiving end of the giving do little to improve their plight. Once the money is gone they return to the same habits…of course there are exceptions.

Posted by tbbaot | Report as abusive

What I find particularly ridiculous is the idea that if you aren’t boasting about how much you give to charity you aren’t giving any at all. Steve Jobs and Apple both give a lot of money to charities, Apple have supported the Red brand of charitable products since 2006 with a special range of iPods and have given tens of millions to AIDS charities in Africa.
http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/ 09/02/u2_singer_bono_praises_philanthrop y_of_apples_steve_jobs.html

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive

Just a little perspective for you 5th decade. From Apples announcement of Ipod sales since 2006 when the red program began for Apple … from the Apple site IPOD timeline:

to Q3 2011 – 36 million
2010 – 275 million
2009 – 250 million
2008 – 197 million
2007 – 141 million
2006 –88 million

I use 150 as the Ipod ranged from $99 to $199 so this is just an estimated number.

987 million Ipods @ 150$ 148,050,000,000.

160 million is what Apple says they have given thus far to Global Fund to help fund AIDS programs in Africa, off of the Apple site, today.

$160million/6 years = 26.666 million a year

That is approx. 1$ to charity for every 1k they make on Ipods and only Ipods. (It is actually $10 of every red ipod given to charity but it gives perspective) Given Apple makes 2/3 profits from the Iphone sales, we can pretty well estimate the profits would be similar so let’s make it 50%.

Given 1% of corporate profits before taxes is typical for large corporations (and of course it is not so much generosity as Corporate identity and tax write offs) and some with philanthropic foundations give 3 to 5, I think that this amount would be staggeringly tiny if we also took the other 40 some products Apple has sold since 2006.

Having put that in perspective I will happily stick by my original posts FifthDecade.

http://philanthropy.com/article/Big-Comp anies-Hold-Steady-in/123792/

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

It baffles me, absolutely baffles me, how so many people don’t care about billion dollar corporations NOT being philanthropic!

We absolutely SHOULD care when we see a human being, or a corporation, marinating in hundreds of millions of dollars (or BILLIONS) and not using some it to help other human beings or the world at large.

This is a lesson we teach our children: SHARE. But for some reason, when it comes to corporations and business people, it’s no longer about helping the environment or animals or humans; it’s about buying homes, yachts, and showcasing and hoarding your wealth!

Steve Jobs could have been a wonderful role model for not only someone who developed cool gadgets, but also for being humane and compassionate.

He is an incredibly innovative man — but he is also a pure, unadulterated, capitalist pig (like many, many other *supremely* rich humans on the planet).

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