My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Steve Jobs or Bill Gates- Who should be on the pedestal?

On Monday I started the Bloggers for Charity initiative. In keeping with the charity theme, today I will discuss how a person’s charitable intentions may affect how they are viewed by society when their life is looked at in totality. There is no better comparison to illustrate the significance of philanthropy when looking at the impact an individual has on the world than comparing Bill Gates and Steven Jobs.

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A few days after Steve Jobs passed away, the adulation faded in some quarters and some critics began to note his poor track record in regard to charitable causes, especially when compared to his contemporary, Bill Gates.

When talking around the water cooler with colleagues at work, this topic arose often in the week or two following Mr. Jobs death. People were reading that not only did Jobs personally not donate to charity, but that he had eliminated all corporate philanthropy programs at Apple. However, since Jobs was quoted as saying he did all his charitable acts privately, one will never know without reviewing his personal income tax return how philanthropic he was or was not. In this Washington Post article , Bono of U2 supports Jobs’ when he is criticized for his poor philanthropic efforts.

On a personal basis, I have always found this issue intriguing. I have often wondered if I was super-rich, would I be more like Bill Gates or more like Steve Jobs. How much money is enough once you are extremely wealthy? Personally, I would like to think I would be more like Bill Gates.

Based on the above discussion, I found this article, taken from the Harvard Business Review, posted on Business by Maxwell Wessel extremely interesting. The premise of Mr. Wessel’s article is that although both leaders are highly admirable, and in fact Mr. Jobs may have been our generation’s most important leader in the world of business, Bill Gates has used his talents in ways that stretch beyond the business world.

Mr. Wessel states “As much as I love Apple, Inc., I would happily give up my iPhone to put food on the plates of starving children. Steve Jobs turned his company into a decade long leader in the truly new space of mobile computing. Bill Gates decided to eliminate malaria. Who do you think we should be putting up on a pedestal for our children to emulate?”

I must say that I tend to agree with Mr. Wessel. However, the Jobs philanthropic legacy is far from over, as supposedly his wife Laurene Powell Jobs, is very philanthropic in nature and the apple may turn :).

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  1. Did Mr Wessels then give up his iPhone to put food on the plates of the starving children? There's no shortage of the latter!

    Talk is always cheap. Some people will donate, say 5 dollars, and feel they have earned the right to decide who should be put on a pedestal, between Gates and Jobs no less.

    If someone made an honest buck, let him decide what he wants to do with his money.

    If someone feels charitable, let him donate to charity and then shut up..

  2. Apple was near bankruptcy when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, so it made sense to eliminate corporate philantropy at the time. They eventually resumed corporate donations under community affairs program, though there was no donation matching program like there is now under Tim Cook.

    Steve Jobs was a very private person, and probably wanted to give his charitable actions private. He also knew he didn't have much time left on Earth, so it could be that he chose to delay giving away his money until after his death.

    There are three things people forget when they make these comparisons. First, Steve Jobs was not nearly as wealthy as Bill Gates. Second, Bill Gates entered the billionaire club in 1986, and Steve Jobs only nine years later and much more suddenly. Third, Bill Gates never had to save a company from bankruptcy, fight cancer, or prepare a corporate succession plan knowing his death was imminent. So he simply had a lot more time to think about how to charitably distribute his wealth.

  3. Anon#1- Fair enough and valid position. However, as someone who has prepared 1,000's of tax returns over the years and especially while at a big 4 firm whose clients had high extreme net worth, i still have a problem with people who just make a $10 cancer donation when they make millions, but that is just me.

    Anon #2- great points.