Yes, You Can Think Less of Steve Jobs for Not Being a Philanthropist

When Steve Jobs announced his resignation the world more than mourned: people poured their hearts out, weeping because the greatest visionary of our generation will no longer envision cool, affordable gadgets. While Jobs created life-changing devices, as one of America's wealthiest (and most visible) CEOs he had one very big shortcoming: He doesn't do charity. At least not publicly, which is really a shame, given his affluence and position.

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Jobs has money, but as DealBook's Andrew Ross Sorkin points out, he doesn't give it to the needy, and he's certainly had plenty of opportunities.

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.

Not only has Jobs himself sat out the philanthropy game, but his very profitable company, Apple, has no charity arms continues Sorkin. "In 1997, when Mr. Jobs returned to Apple, he closed the company’s philanthropic programs. At the time, he said he wanted to restore the company’s profitability. Despite the company’s $14 billion in profits last year and its $76 billion cash pile today, the giving programs have never been reinstated."

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He's just not interested in public charitable offerings, but maybe that's okay. Jobs has given back to society in other ways, some, including Sorkin, argue. "Before writing this column, I had reservations about even raising the issue... because of the enormous positive impact his products have had by improving the lives of millions of people through technology." Instead of spreading his energies too thin, Jobs concentrated on the business. "He clearly didn’t have the time." Mark Vermilion, whom Jobs hired away to run his short lived Steven P. Jobs foundation, told Sorkin. 

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But just because Apple under Jobs's direction made some really good-looking devices, doesn't necessarily mean the company's off the hook, notes The Chronicle of Philanthropy 's Vincent Stehle. "Apple's defenders--and they are legion--will argue that the company’s greatest contribution to society is to provide tools that spark creative expression and make it easier for people and organizations of all kinds to spread ideas.... But other technology companies have found ways to promote innovation and help nonprofits." And in-fact the Sydney Morning Herald's Julian Lee thinks Jobs hides behinds his creations. "Yet, once the hyperbole is stripped away, it may be that he was merely the man who made us fall in love with pretty gadgets, and made Apple shareholders immensely rich in the process." 

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Of course, Jobs might give anonymously, points out Sorkin. "There has long been speculation that an anonymous $150 million donation to the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco may have come from Mr. Jobs." And his wife sits on boards of Teach for America and the New Schools Venture Fund, to which Jobs and his wife probably donate, "though neither she nor her husband are listed among its big donors."

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But shouldn't he use his power to promote charitable acts? At the end of the day, he's not using his legacy for good, argues Computer World's Preston Gralla. "The fact remains that as of now, when it comes to helping others using his vast fortune, Jobs rates an F. And that's important, because there are more meaningful things in life than only building a thriving business, or even achieving a technological breakthrough." 

But maybe all that will change as he ages. Warren Buffet didn't forgo his fortunes until he turned 75, reports Sorkin. And, as Daily Intel mentions, he might have some more time on his hands. "Now, of course, Jobs no longer has Apple to focus on, and it's possible he might turn to working on a legacy of a different sort."