It’s fair to say that Steve Jobs has probably affected my life, like those of millions of others, more than any corporate executive in the world. I used a Mac Plus to put out my college newspaper almost 25 years ago. A Mac Classic was my first home computer. An iPod keeps me company during my commute to work. Every computer in our office is now a Mac. There is likely an iPhone in my immediate future, now that it’s coming to Verizon.
The co-founder and CEO of Apple is perhaps more closely identified with his company than any of his counterparts, widely recognized as the innovator and prime mover who expanded the company’s business model from the already successful computer line — the first to use a graphic user interface operating system — to consumer electronics, including the iPhone, iPad and now, perhaps the company’s biggest hit ever, the iPad tablet.
Apple’s products don’t save lives, but they make them more convenient, productive and fun. For years I went through a succession of portable music players that ate my cassettes, skipped through CD music or required endless slapping or jiggling of headphone connections. My five-year-old iPod still works perfectly and delivers flawless, easily accessible music. The MacBooks my kids use are far superior to the more expensive Dell laptop I’m saddled with that freezes when it overheats.
Apple today is the second most successful company in America, after ExxonMobil, which is particularly impressive given the fact that it sells nothing people need — like gasoline, clothes or food — but only things people want. The company’s record $26.7 billion in profits announced this week for the first quarter of the year wasn’t all from rich people; even during a recession, millions of people who likely could use the money for more important things have been splurging for iPads and iPhones.
Apple is surely too big to fail these days, but the company’s soaring stock price will take a battering in the coming weeks as Jobs steps down from running the company to deal with unspecified health issues. In 2008, he took a leave of absence while searching for a liver donor, which he was able to find in large part because his considerable wealth allowed him to fly around the country and have himself placed on multiple hospital waiting lists.
As a result of this experience, according to BusinessInsider, Jobs made organ donation a personal cause, concerned about those who couldn’t do what he did, and lobbied then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to push for a bill requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to ask new licensees if they want to be donors.
But unfortunately neither Jobs, nor Apple, which has at least $40 billion in assets, has stood out in the philanthropic world in a way that matches their stature. A column in the Chronicle of Philanthropy last week noted that "Every type of nonprofit group could benefit from support from Apple, which is largely absent from the major places where other technology companies provide support to nonprofits." According to Anti-poverty activist Shawn Ahmed, "To this day, despite all the contacts I have made, I have yet to find a single person who knows anything that Apple has funded or supported in the fight against global poverty." Apple has even drawn fire for refusing applications that can directly collect donations for non-profits from its popular App Store for portable devices, saying it can’t verify whether the sponsoring organizations are legit. Jobs, whose estimated net worth is over $6 billion, has not stood out as a philanthropist, cerainly not when compared to Michael Bloomberg, Bill and Melinda Gates or Warren Buffett, who have pledged to give away the majority of their wealth. It’s always possible he has kept his donations private, but of so he has wasted an opportunity to encourage more charity and to guide his company down that path. Many prominent billionaires add more value to their contributions by calling media attention to the causes they support.
With God’s help, Steve Jobs will hopefully recover from his latest health crisis and, if illness makes him more reflective as it has in the past, he’ll return to the helm of Apple with some fresh ideas about how to improve the lives of people who can’t afford iPhones.