What have all the rich Apple and Pixar folks done with their money?

A friend from Seattle stopped by this morning for breakfast.  He developed a software product that layers some new user interface on top of Windows XP/Vista and we talked about how to get people to use it.  I noted that the original Macintosh OS spawned some successful UI extensions/plugins, notably Boomerang (put your recently accessed files and folders on a pull-down menu in every application), but that since the early 1990s nobody except Microsoft or Apple had been able to foist new user interface off on anyone (and Microsoft’s TabletPC hasn’t worked well at all, achieving an even smaller market share than Mac OS).

So… how come nobody can get anyone to use a user interface plugin that addresses the woeful shortcomings of Windows, notably navigating up and down the hierarchical folders and among all the simultaneously running apps?

The second question that came to mind was what the Apple guys have been doing with their $billions.  Bill Gates and the Microsoft crowd have been very prominent in charitable circles, saving Africans from disease, etc.  By contrast, a Google search for “Steve Jobs charity” or “Steve Jobs donation” turns up nothing except an article on how Apple bought him a $90 million Gulfstream bizjet.

So… if Steve Jobs doesn’t give money to charity and doesn’t pay for his own jet, is he doing something interesting with his $billions?  And what about the rest of the Apple and Pixar crowd?  Are they funding a secret desert project somewhere?

18 thoughts on “What have all the rich Apple and Pixar folks done with their money?

  1. RE: Apple / Pixar donations.

    Aside from Jobs, I don’t think Apple/Pixar have minted any other billionaires or even centi-millionaires. Different order of magnitude than the MSFT/GOOG/EBAY crowd, and less likely to make the news. A dedicaded SEC report surfer could prove me wrong though…

  2. Let’s look at it this way: apple stock has been on the market for a long, long time. No one is getting rich in any IPO.

    Options? The SEC is watching tech companies like hawks because of the whole back dating scandal.

    Steve Jobs owns 5.6M shares.

    Maybe they’re offering share grants, like Microsoft has begun to do…

  3. In the late 90’s, a guy threw a pie in Bill Gates’ face when he was speaking in front of a group. It was realized that a huge, important company like Microsoft couldn’t continue to be run by a single, well-identified guy, and Gates began to disengage; it’s likely he subsequently got bored. By that point, Microsoft had already been dominant in the industry for the better part of a decade. Meanwhile, up until “Toy Story”, it looked as if Jobs might fade into obscurity(NeXT?). Jobs’ companies have always been quite a bit more tenuous than Microsoft. I’d bet Gates has been a billionaire much longer than Jobs. It’ll be interesting to see what jobs is up to in 10 years. I guess if you’re more cynical, you could note that Gates was born with money; his mother is apparently known for philanthropy, and so he was probably much more strongly inculcated with charitiable values than the middle class jobs was. (Jobs also had the recent distraction of cancer)

  4. Well, we all know that Woz is out having fun in semi-charitable ways with his money, but I think his fortune fell far short of reaching into the billions.

    As for Steve Jobs, his AAPL holdings are worth about $439mil, and he is by far the largest individual shareholder (21x the next largest individual shareholder). This is about 0.7% of shares outstanding and about 1/10th the holdings of the largest institutional shareholder, which has 7.3%. It should be noted that as recently as early 2003, this same amount of stock would have been worth about $32mil. I’m basing the figures on today’s ending at $81.46, while it was in the $6 range in 2003. (All numbers based on finance.yahoo.com charts, which are split-adjusted, and today’s ending quotes.) Also, the Disney/Pixar thing is fairly recent, and Steve Jobs is still heavily involved with the day-to-day operations of Apple and the management of Pixar/Disney. It should also be noted that Jobs held fully 50.1% of Pixar stock at the time of acquisition. I don’t know who the other large shareholders of Pixar were, although I would imagine I’d have heard something about them if they held enough stock to be a billionaire after the Disney deal — they would now own about 2% of Disney, more than Roy Disney or Michael Eisner (using Wikipedia for my research here).

    In comparison, Bill Gates holds about 9% of MSFT shares outstanding (about 2.3x Steve Ballmer’s holdings), compared with the largest institutional shareholder with 4%. Microsoft’s stock has traded at or above its current level (upper $20 range, split adjusted) since 1998. Bill Gates created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the same year he stepped down as CEO of Microsoft (also the year that the stock price — and thus Gates’ personal wealth — peaked).

    It should also be noted that Warren Buffett, a longtime friend of Gates’, only this year pledged part of his vast fortune ($42bil, ranked 2nd in the world behind Gates) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Basically my point is that substantial charitable giving is usually done towards the end of one’s business career and ideally should be given when one’s assets are at their peak. Say Steve Jobs had given away $10mil of his $32mil in Apple stock in 2003. That $10mil would have probably gone to some endowment or other and would probably still be worth about $10mil — maybe $20mil if we want to be very generous (unless it were spent, in which case its present monetary value would probably not be calculable). But that would mean that he’d be $137mil less rich today — 137 million dollars less that he would be able to give to charity today. All because he kept $10mil three and a half years ago.

    Unless you think a charity could achieve a 13x return on investment, you come to realize that it’s actually better for Steve Jobs to keep his money for now and give it away later as long as he’s creating such huge returns on his personal wealth. This is the same reason why Gates and Buffett have waited so long to donate their fortunes.

  5. RE: Mac OS X extensions.

    The Quicksilver and Launchbar UI extensions are quite popular. Sorry Windows people.

  6. While no company has completely addressed all the Windows shortcomings, a number of tools have been created to make it more attractive and more useful. XPize may be one of the most underrated in this category, offering a number of UI fixes and bundling a great replacement for alt-tab that makes application switching more meaningful.

  7. Before the Disney/Pixar buyout, Steve Jobs was the only one with any significant holdings in Pixar. He held about 60 million shares prior to the merger (just short of 50%), while the next closest holder held about 500,000. Now Steve Jobs beneficially owns about 15% of Walt Disney’s outstanding common stock (worth about $4,000,000,000), not to mention his Apple Computer holdings (about 5.5 million shares or 0.6% at $81.28/share=$441,061,937.28, plus 120,000 options worth about $5,600,000). That puts the significant portion of his wealth at somewhere around $4,445,000,000.28.

    Basically of the Pixar crowd, Jobs is the only one that’s anywhere near Gates/Buffet.

  8. Apple has a thriving add-on market and quite often buys up the most popular system add-ons to build into the next revision of the OS or into their application bundle. The latest high-profile example is coverflow, which started out as an iTunes plugin. Or, heck, iTunes itself.

    Microsoft does the same thing, but I’m not a PC guy so I can’t think of any specific examples.

    Quite a few Apple alumni went on to create the next great new thing, whatever they thought that might be. In the mid ’90s it was PDAs, so Apple alums Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld created General Magic, Steve Capps created the Newton, and other Apple refugees created the Palm Pilot.

  9. Perhaps Steve Jobs simply wants to be a tasteful billionaire, with a nice house, and a car, and re-distributing his good fortune by giving his gardener a holiday bonus. A tried but true classy lifestyle, much easier to stomach than a trampoline room for burning off excess autism and wasting even more billions on the embarrassing financial spectacle that is aid to africa.

  10. Who else aside from Jobs and Woz made any serious cash? Some VCs like Markkula I think.

    The creators of the Mac went on to other pursuits (NeXT, General Magic, Nautilus) and some ended up back at Apple after a while (Bud Tribble went to NeXT then came back to Apple during the reverse takeover).

    John Lassiter and Ed Catmull are still at Pixar, creating great movies and advancing the state of the art in computer animation.

    In some respects it is fitting that Gates’ ill-gotten billions from his crappy OS and applications, be squandered on African projects that will accomplish nothing.

    If you really want to change Africa, hire the French Foreign Legion, take over some god-forsaken jungle in Africa, then offer strong property rights and relatively corruption-free government, along with a decent police force. Build a massive wall around the area first, because colony or no, people from all over the continent will be trying to get in. That will soak up the first $10 Billion right there and actually give you the chance to seriously improve the life of some 50,000 to 100,000 people right there.

  11. Adding to Glen’s list, Apple and Netscape alumni founded the short-lived Eazel, which tried to put an Macintosh-level, slick GUI on Linux over X Windows, in an open source project. They got funded before anyone asked what the business model was (consulting services, apparently).

  12. There’s another angle to the whole wealth and charity issue that is being completely missed here, I believe.

    MS, in it’s day to day operations and policies were far from what anyone would ever consider charitable. They were brutal abusive monopolists in practice, wrenching as much power and control as they could (illegally, it was proven) and employing what no one would describe as ethical practices. So, from the angle of world outlook and philosophy, it appears that Bill’s corporate policies and charitable endeavors never intersected. Isn’t that odd? Steal, scratch and bite every last penny while making the customer suffer? Then turn around and act like Mother Teresa? That seems very strange to me. I don’t want to knock his foundation, which is doing good, but this is about Bill’s legacy, in large part. His only corporate goal was to win by any means necessary, and now that his company has no where to grow, he’s leaving the sinking ship and patching his damaged image. I think there is some truth to that.

    Now… look at Steve Jobs and Apple. This is a vastly different dynamic philosophically. Is there the same division between corporate success and social responsibility at Apple as there was with MS? I don’t see it. Here are some concrete examples:

    1. Apple used it’s considerably valuable website home page to:
    – Acknowledge the contributions of important civil rights leaders
    – Acknowledge the contributions of accomplished musicians, scientists,
    women, etc
    – Raise money for the victims of the tsunami and hurricane Katrina

    it is worth noting that this was not a common practice at the time they
    began doing this, and this leadership position has since had an influence
    on other corporatations. Who gets the attention for this philanthropic
    gesture? How can we measure the social and cultural value of this action?

    2. Apple’s products have historically served to empower average people to
    express themselves creatively and contribute positively to the world. Today,
    Apple’s products are serving to help break down the lock that
    concentrated wealth and power has over the mainstream media and re-introduce
    democracy and dialogue into the social discourse by leveling the playing field in
    the news, information, music, entertainment, etc. What is the value of this
    contribution? Does it not have a social significance that we are not giving
    proper credit to? Would the same kind of cultural landscape be possible if
    Apple had gone under and MicroSoft was left as the only significant force in
    computing?

    3. Recently, Apple has allied with [Product] Red to fight AIDS in Africa. Yes, it will
    sell a lot of iPods, but it also gives incredible visibility to a problem that most
    Americans don’t seem to care about. What is the value of this action?

    There may be more examples of this melding of business objectives and liberal democratic values in the case of Apple, but these are the ones that stand out to me. Who is to say what Steve will do with his wealth after his corporate leadership days are over? In the meantime, he is doing something with his power and influence now through integrating the 2. Steve’s world is not fragmented like Bill’s is. The fact that this sensibility is also present in the integration of the products he helps to develop speaks volumes of the breadth of this approach to life.

    Paul G

  13. Oh yeah… how could I forget…

    4. Committment to the end user experience above the quick and easy profit. The software is engineered to work reliably and intuitively. Apple was among the first to adopt standards of interface design because protecting the user’s time and creations was given a high value. This was rarely my experience with MS, where the user experience almost always seemed subordinate to extraneous corporate and industry-centric values.

  14. I do not know where he said it, but Steve Jobs is on record as having said that it is harder to give away a dollar without doing harm than it is to earn one. When he retires from Apple and Pixar, he plans to do something just as innovative with philanthropy.

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