Apple’s Steve Jobs Lacks the Philanthropic Pedigree of His High-Tech Billionaire Peers but May Be Doing Just as Much Good

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August 29, 2011; Source: New York Times | Many of the tech geniuses who made billions from Microsoft, Google, Intel, Facebook and so many others have turned into young but generous philanthropists. But apparently not Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Jobs is worth an estimated $8.3 billion, but he hasn’t joined Bill Gates and others to sign the billionaires’ giving pledge, nor does he call attention to his personal giving. Does he even do any major charitable giving? No one can say for sure. There are rumors about some anonymous donations, but no real confirmations. His wife is on the boards of Teach for America and the New Schools Venture Fund, which may indicate some significant gifts from the Jobs family to those organizations, but there has been no acknowledgement by TFA or NSVF of any such donations.

Built into the lionization of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for their philanthropic commitments is a subtle, unstated criticism of Jobs for choosing a different path. Perhaps Jobs is like Buffett himself, who hardly even thought about philanthropic giving until a few years ago, when he put billions into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Or maybe Jobs believes that the maximum social good he can give society is the continuing success of Apple Inc. Maybe he quietly agrees with the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who says business leaders should help solve social problems, but not fight poverty through charity. Perhaps that explains Jobs’ decision to end Apple’s corporate philanthropy program in 1997—ostensibly due to the corporation’s then-precarious profitability—and then leave it shut down even as Apple began raking in multi-billion dollar profits ($14 billion last year alone).

Is there anything wrong with the possibility that Jobs might turn out to be more focused on the social good he can do via Apple than on a project of recrafting himself as a philanthropist? Has our nation gone a little overboard in celebrating the other billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge?—Rick Cohen

  • Brandt Hardin

    Jobs is done but left his mark on every corner of wireless technology. It only leaves us asking who won the war between the two titans of modern computer technology? Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates / Apple vs. Microsoft

  • Michael Wyland

    Steve Jobs’s philanthropy may be secret, or it may be of the individually-directed, personal type (as was much of Ronald Reagan’s). It may also be that, as an entrepreneur, he has delayed his philanthropy until the end of his professional career or later.

    As Bill Gates approached 40, there were articles criticizing his lack of personal philanthropy despite his great wealth and a family tradition of philanthropic service. Microsoft’s foundation was (I don’t know about the present) focused overwhelmingly on product donations designed to facilitate technology access.

    Thomas Monaghan (founder of Domino’s Pizza) was similarly criticized for his lack of philanthropy generally and in Detroit specifically. When he decided to turn his attention to philanthropy, he did so in a big way, heavily influenced by his Catholic faith.

    Personal choice influences personal philanthropy. “Self-made” millionaires are less willing than other wealthy individuals to part with their fortunes until they feel secure and believe they have accomplished their dreams and vision. It’s never too late to be charitable, and we shouldn’t give up on someone because they haven’t met our concept of what their timeline should be.

  • Karen Bassler

    I’m not sure how “the maximum social good [Jobs] can give society is the continuing success of Apple Inc.” Is the implication that a robust company will provide employment for many, or that the taxes the company pays will underwrite social services programs? Despite those outcomes, I would argue that anyone with the wealth of a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Warren Buffett should be paying back to society through philanthropy. They did not achieve their massive success without the support of public infrastructure and systems that are increasingly relying on private donations to survive. And they should not only be paying back, they should do so publicly, to promote philanthropy among their peers and employees.