October 26, 2011

Steve Jobs Found Much to Dislike About Philanthropy

Steve Jobs wasn't simply too busy for philanthropy. The Apple co-founder found many things about professional philanthropy—the jargon, showiness, and all the rich people who thought they could shake it up—distasteful.

In his new biography, titled Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson explains why the technology pioneer quickly abandoned the foundation he started in the mid-1980s.

"He discovered that it was annoying to have to deal with the person he had hired to run it, who kept talking about 'venture' philanthropy and how to 'leverage' giving," the book says.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mark Vermilion, whom Mr. Jobs reportedly hired away from Apple to run the foundation, describes the philanthropy's brief run a little differently. “He clearly didn’t have the time,” Mr. Vermilion told the newspaper.

He said that Mr. Jobs wanted to support projects focused on nutrition and vegetarianism, while Mr. Vermilion wanted him to promote social entrepreneurs. “I don’t know if it was my inability to get him excited about it,” he told The Times. “I can’t criticize Steve.”

Mr. Isaacson writes that Mr. Jobs was "contemptuous of people who made a display of philanthropy or thinking they could reinvent it."

Even his wife's charitable work didn't convince Mr. Jobs of philanthropy's value. Early in his marriage to Laurene Powell Jobs, a former Goldman Sachs employee, she helped to start the education nonprofit College Track. Mr. Jobs said he was "impressed" with her nonprofit work.

But Mr. Isaacson writes that he still remained "generally dismissive of philanthropic endeavors and never visited her after-school centers."

He seemed to care more about how Apple technology could help nonprofits than donating his Apple profits to them. For example, Mr. Jobs once gave $5,000 to Larry Brilliant's Seva Foundation. But he wasn't more forthcoming.

"He instead worked on finding ways that a donated Apple II and a VisiCal program could make it easier for the foundation to do a survey it was planning on blindness in Nepal," writes Mr. Jobs's biographer.