Friday, October 7, 2011

The One Opportunity Steve Jobs Missed

Steve Jobs - PlacardSteve Jobs made a lot of amazing products that made a lot of people's lives more enjoyable. He made a ton of money for his employees, his investors and himself. But I can't help but consider his passing with some regret. Jobs had opportunities to use all that power for greater good, but turned them down.

Under Jobs, Apple used less clean energy & more coal than any other data giant, according to a Greenpeace report (PDF). And as CNN Money reported:
[In 2007] the founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Apple one of "America's Least Philanthropic Companies." Jobs had terminated all of Apple's long-standing corporate philanthropy programs within weeks after returning to Apple in 1997, citing the need to cut costs until profitability rebounded. But the programs have never been restored.

Unlike Bill Gates - the tech world's other towering figure - Jobs has not shown much inclination to hand over the reins of his company to create a different kind of personal legacy. While his wife is deeply involved in an array of charitable projects, Jobs' only serious foray into personal philanthropy was short-lived. In January 1987, after launching Next, he also, without fanfare or public notice, incorporated the Steven P. Jobs Foundation. "He was very interested in food and health issues and vegetarianism," recalls Mark Vermilion, the community affairs executive Jobs hired to run it. Vermilion persuaded Jobs to focus on "social entrepreneurship" instead. But the Jobs foundation never did much of anything, besides hiring famed graphic designer Paul Rand to design its logo. (Explains Vermilion: "He wanted a logo worthy of his expectations.") Jobs shut down the foundation after less than 15 months.
Steve Jobs leaves a legacy of innovation. I just think it's a shame his rivalry with Bill Gates didn't transcend to higher callings.

(Footnote: Fair to point out the size of Gates' philanthropy may in part be a product of the outsize compensation Gates was given compared to Jobs.)
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