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.
Jobs 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.
Published or updated October 26, 2011.