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Steve Jobs: The Billionaire Next Door

This article was written by in Wealth and Affluence. 26 comments.


Steve Jobs may not have been as wealthy as his arch-nemesis Bill Gates, but after his successes with Apple and Pixar, he was one of the world’s richest men. Forbes recently listed Jobs as 39th on the Forbes 400, a list of the richest people in America, with a net worth of $7 billion. The author of Jobs’ biography has been offering some insight into the billionaire’s life in advance of the book’s release. Some of the insight pertains to his attitude towards being rich.

As success came to Jobs and his colleagues, he observed the effect of the influx of wealth after Apple became a public company. An excess of money turned those who benefited from the company stock into “bizarro people” who purchased unnecessary things like Rolls Royces and plastic surgery. Jobs said he wanted to avoid “that nutso lavish lifestyle.” Although he could afford to upgrade his lifestyle, Jobs lived with his family in a modest house in Palo Alto and didn’t hire help or an entourage.

Steve JobsJobs was’t a complete stranger to living a finer life than most of the country could afford. He owned an apartment in The San Remo, a building in New York that featured residents including Steven Spielberg, Steve Martin, and Bono. Steve also owned a 17,000 square foot mansion in California. While he didn’t own a Rolls Royce, he drove a 2008 Mercedes SL 55 AMG.

If Steve Jobs gave to charitable causes, he didn’t want anyone to know. There is virtually no record of Jobs sharing his wealth with causes needing funding, unlike many of the other billionaires outranking him. His direction for the posthumous distribution of his wealth is not public information. While many have criticized Jobs for not being a philanthropic role model, using his wealth to inspire others to focus on worthy causes, those with opposing viewpoints argue that his work building a successful company, creating wealth for others as well as revolutionary technology that, among other things, facilitate larger and faster contributions to these worthy causes, has done enough to improve the world.

It’s a weak argument, but it’s one that caters to the more capitalistic approach to philanthropy. It relies on the idea that by providing salaries to his employees, they will go out and accomplish the philanthropic goals that Jobs did not set for himself. The argument assumes that organizations using iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks to collect funds wouldn’t have been just as capable with other devices. Furthermore, the argument ignores that Jobs shut down corporate philanthropy on his return to Apple in order to save money. Did reducing charitable expenses play a significant role in saving the company?

Despite some fancy homes that often went unused and a moderately flashy car, Jobs seems to have taken the ideology of The Millionaire Next Door to heart. He continued to live his life mostly as he always had, not flaunting his wealth and not drawing too much attention to himself outside of his job responsibilities. For someone whose motto and company marketing slogan was “Think different,” Jobs appeared to desire to keep his differences unseen.

The Millionaire Next Door changed the way people think about millionaires. Most millionaires worked hard building a company to earn money. They didn’t earn it. They tend to blend in with their surroundings, not flaunt their wealth. Those who buy items as status symbols tend not to be wealthy (purchasing items on credit) or are wealthy only temporarily due to overspending. This idea of an understated millionaire, comfortable with his wealth and free of a need to prove himself, seems to fit the profile of Steve Jobs.

It’s perhaps an approach that would befit anyone who found himself with any amount of wealth beyond what is needed to afford the necessities of life.

Photo: Annie Bannanie 06
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Published or updated October 26, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Brett

I often hear people say “If I had that much money, I would not work any more.” they don’t seem to understand that people with that much money never worked just for the money.

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avatar William

That is a great point. Too often people don’t realize that. It is not the money that motivated him but the challenge and success of his work.

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avatar Bookworm

Yeah, for some one like Jobs, his work was a passion not just about making money.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

It seems an equal split. Many of the wealthy live quiet, ordinary lives. It is the others, the ones who spend lavishly, that we notice. Not all people buy fancy stuff on credit…..there are some wealthy people who love to flaunt it. Some young people who grow up in a wealthy family don’t even realize that the things they have are not average.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

I like the fact that people like jobs, buffett & others don’t flaunt their wealth in front of the public unlike the scumbag CEO of Tyco who is now in prison. Jobs is a more fascinating individual after death, did anyone catch the 60 minutes piece on sunday?

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avatar William

It is interesting that there hasn’t been a lot of information on Jobs giving. Although he was a rather private individual, this could explain it. I always wonder if hte main reason some very rich people are so open about there giving is it is almost personal PR. I am rich, but, look I gave this much to this cause, so I am not a “greedy” rich person. I am guessing Jobs did give to different causes, at least I would hope so, but was just not as into letting people know about it.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I read recently that Jobs went to Sunday school as a child, and stopped going around age 13 or 14. If that statement is true, then perhaps he learned the passage in the Bible that talks about doing our charitable giving in secret (Matthew 6:4). So maybe that’s why we don’t read any stories about it.

It seems as though we expect wealthy people to give away large sums of money, as if they’re obligated to do so. But we’re really not obligated to do anything with our money other than pay taxes and take care of our own (although that’s been debated in the past, too.)

I’m looking forward to reading the biography.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

It would be nice for Mr Jobs (at this time) if this were true. I hope it is.

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avatar Krantcents

In some way, Steve Jobs is the exception and in other ways he is the rule. He is more like old money rich than the new rich we see very often. The new rich live an oppulent lifestyle, very showy! The old wealth hide it well.

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avatar Jack

Check out the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island sometime, and tell me if you still stand by that statement.

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avatar Frank Andrews

I have always been of the opinion that companies should not be engaged in charities or charitable works. Those that do are taking money from their employees, stockholders and customers and re-distributing those funds to causes that the employees, stockholders and customers may not want to support. Pay more to the workers and shareholders and reduce prices to the customers and let them decide who to support.

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avatar Paul

I’m having trouble understanding your next to last paragraph.

You say:
” Most millionaires worked hard building a company to earn money. They didn’t earn it. ”

What do you mean by saying they didn’t earn it? Isn’t working hard to build a company earning it?

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avatar Brett

I think he meant “earned” as in a wage earner working for someone else.

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avatar Investor Junkie

I assume he means didn’t inherit it.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,490 (Platinum)

The second sentence should read, “They didn’t inherit it.” I apologize for the confusion and I’ll fix the article at the first moment I can.

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avatar Paul

OK, that makes much more sense. Thanks for the clarification.

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avatar Tony

If you read the Jobs’ biography you’ll learn he was not a very kind person. When Apple went public he and Steve Wozniack became overnight millionaires. Wozniak decided to offer some stock shares to a few workers that were key in making Apple what it was, he then went to Steve Jobs and asked him to match his offer and Jobs flat out refused. He told Wozniack, let’s do this you give them cero stock and then I’ll match you.
This kind of behavior makes me think he did not donate anything to charitable causes, that is why there is no record of it.
Don’t get me wrong, Steve Jobs was a pioneer and we all benefited from his vision, but that doesn’t make him a nice guy.
I believe Bill Gates is a far better person. He not only created one of the most succesful companies ever but he also donated all of his wealth to charitable causes, to me he is the complete package.

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avatar Investor Junkie

Bill Gates was also not a nice guy either.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I haven’t seen one person with massive wealth that was ‘nice’. The 2 don’t seem to go together.

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avatar Squirrelers

I certainly hope Jobs was charitable, and the limited public knowledge of this behavior means that it was actually done privately. People can change the world in many ways – not only with products that are developed, but also with resources.

The book seems quite interesting….

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avatar Investor Junkie

From all accounts it’s possible but doubtful. He closed down all charity causes within Apple after he came back. He had a foundation after he first left Apple, but then quickly shut it down.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦85 (Newbie)

Whether or not he gave to charitable causes is, of course, his business. But it’s my personal belief that you should help others if you can. And he certainly could.
If “taking” from shareholders, employees and customers is a concern, one could always give from one’s personal wealth — and again, he certainly could.
Mr. Jobs was brilliant and shrewd and he certainly changed the way some of us see the world, but he was neither the messiah nor the antichrist. I’m not sure why people seem to want to build him up in either direction.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Well stated.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

Agreed Donna. I would hope that if I was or became a millionaire I would give from my personal wealth. I think that I would since I do believe in helping others and sometimes that means I give to charities I support.

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avatar Steven J Fromm

As an estate planning attorney for over 30 years, it would seem to me that many truly rich people are not showy but usually conservative, while the flashy and showey are not really rich. As always there are exceptions to general statements. It was once said to my that a doing a true act of kindness is to do something charitable or kind but without letting anyone know about it. Who knows where Mr Jobs stood on these matters. We will probably never know since he probably had living trusts set up for his family. However, he probably had tax advisors and the estate tax code favors giving wealth to charity. Perhaps he used chartible remainder trusts or has set up a private foundation. Its hard to tell, but perhaps this exercise is important since it forces us to focus on our own life’s work and priorities.

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avatar qixx ♦1,895 (Half-Dollar)

The more i learn about Steve Jobs the more i think he should have been my hero growing up instead of Bill Gates. Oh, well. On to see what else i can learn from him (via his biography).

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