Steve Jobs's legacy -- A for vision, F for philanthropy

Steve Jobs is without doubt the greatest visionary the technology revolution has produced. But when it comes to philanthropy, he rates closer to Scrooge than Bill Gates, at least if a New York Times article is accurate.

In the New York Times column, The Mystery of Steve Jobs Public Giving, Andrew Ross Sorkin lays out a damning indictment of Jobs' history -- or lack thereof -- of giving any of his considerable fortune to help others or better the world.

The article notes:

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.

The article then cites numerous instances of Jobs being what almost seems hostile to public giving. For example, in his position as head of Apple, he has done away with the company's philanthropic activities. The article says:

Mr. Jobs's views on charity are unclear since he rarely talks about it. But 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.

While many high-growth technology companies have philanthropic arms, Apple does not. It does not have a company matching program for charitable giving by its employees like some other Fortune 500 companies.

The Times article says that the Stanford Social Innovation Review, a magazine about the nonprofit sector, deemed Apple one of "America's least philanthropic companies" in 2007.

Sorkin does note that Jobs may have given anonymously to charities, and cited a few instances in which he or Apple has been involved in public causes, such as donating $100,00 to stop a California ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. And he lobbied for California "to become the first state to create a live donor registry for kidney transplants."

Sorkin also notes that Jobs may possibly turn to philanthropy now or in the future, and that some other philanthrophists didn't turn to giving away money until they were older than Jobs.

However, 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.

I've long said that Bill Gates will eventually be recognized more for his philanthropy than his work for Microsoft, and that's all to the good. As for now, though, Jobs will be recognized solely for his vision, and not for any help he's given to others -- and that's for the bad.

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