Well that didn’t take long.
In America we love to build people up, only to later tear them down. And with all the praise being heaped on former Apple CEO Steve Jobs since he stepped down last week, it was inevitable that a backlash would commence at some point. It’s being kicked off, apparently, by New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin — he of Too Big To Fail fame — who wonders today why Jobs hasn’t donated more of his accumulated fortune to charity.
Despite accumulating an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4 percent stake in Disney (through the sale of Pixar), there is no public record of Mr. Jobs giving money to charity. He is not a member of the Giving Pledge, the organization founded by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to persuade the nation’s wealthiest families to pledge to give away at least half their fortunes. (He declined to participate, according to people briefed on the matter.) Nor is there a hospital wing or an academic building with his name on it.
Mr. Jobs has clearly never craved money for money’s sake and has never been ostentatious with his wealth. He took a $1-a-year salary from Apple before stepping down as chief executive last week, though his stock options have made him billions of dollars. In a 1985 interview with Playboy magazine, he said of his riches, “You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it’s humorous, all the attention to it, because it’s hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that’s happened to me.”
Which makes his lack of public giving all the more curious. At one time in his life, Mr. Jobs clearly spent time thinking about philanthropy. In 1986, after leaving Apple and founding NeXT, he started the Steven P. Jobs Foundation. But he closed it a little over a year later. Mark Vermilion, whom Mr. Jobs hired away from Apple to run the foundation, said in an interview, “He clearly didn’t have the time.” Mr. Vermilion said that Mr. Jobs was interested in financing programs involving nutrition and vegetarianism, while Mr. Vermilion pushed him toward social entrepreneurism. “I don’t know if it was my inability to get him excited about it,” he said. “I can’t criticize Steve.”
Thankfully, friends of Jobs spoke up for him to remind Sorkin that Jobs has been, you know, busy changing the f*cking world by inventing new technologies to have time for building foundations and sh*t.
Two of his close friends, both of whom declined to be quoted by name, told me that Mr. Jobs had said to them in recent years, as his wealth ballooned, that he could do more good focusing his energy on continuing to expand Apple than on philanthropy, especially since his illness. “He has been focused on two things — building the team at Apple and his family,” another friend said. “That’s his legacy. Everything else is a distraction.”
Finally — and Sorkin, to his credit, notes this — most ridiculously wealthy people don’t turn their attention to giving away their fortunes until they’re quite old, when the sun is setting on their lives and they’re spending less time doing and more time reflecting. Jobs, at 59, has yet to reach that point — he’s been too busy doing things and when he wasn’t doing things he was desperately trying to beat a deadly cancer so he could do more things. Forgive the guy for having a full plate.
Besides, who’s to say that Jobs hasn’t been giving away money for years anonymously? There are people who do that — without claiming a tax credit for it — you know? The level of gratification one receives from randomly giving an envelope filled with cash, say, to a family whose house recently burnt down that you read about in the paper, right away when the impact is really felt is tremendous. Can we at least wait until he’s gone, whenever that may be, before we start judging the guy’s contributions to humanity? Oh the irony just kills me!
Meanwhile, I’m just going to sit here and imagine that Steve Jobs is the cat in the video below and Andrew Ross Sorkin is the balloon.