Saint Steve? Not Exactly. Apple and the Power of the Dark Side

10/7/11Follow @wroush

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confiscated several computers and servers. (Former Gizmodo editor Brian Lam blogged about the episode this week, saying Jobs was kind but firm with him about Apple’s demands that the iPhone be returned.)

More recently—just last month, in fact—a posse of San Francisco police and Apple employees searched the home of a San Francisco resident suspected of harboring another iPhone prototype lost, incredibly, at another bar. Prototypes seem to have a way of jumping out of Apple employee’s pockets when they smell beer—which may explain why, as the Associated Press reported recently, Apple is looking to beef up its private security force.

Jobs the Miser?

Though he had accumulated a personal fortune estimated at $8.3 billion—largely though his Apple and Disney stock and stock options—Jobs was not a noted public philanthropist, at least not in his lifetime. For a brief period in 1985-1986, he set up a foundation, and was interested in supporting causes related to nutrition, according to an Andrew Ross Sorkin column in the New York Times. But he gave up the idea for lack of time. Jobs’ attitude, according to anonymous friends cited by Sorkin, was that he could do more good by focusing on his work at Apple. Many commentators agreed—”What a loss to humanity it would have been if Jobs had dedicated the last 25 years of his life to figuring out how to give his billions away, instead of doing what he does best,” Harvard Business Review blogger Dan Palotta wrote last month. But others drew unfavorable comparisons between Jobs and Bill Gates, who threw himself into philanthropy well before stepping down as Microsoft’s CEO.

The Wall Street Journal speculated in an article this week, however, that Jobs, ever protective of his own privacy, may have been giving anonymously to charitable causes all along, and that some or most of his fortune will now go toward cancer research or other priorities. And after the Sorkin piece, U2′s Bono wrote the Times a letter in which he praised Apple as a big giver to the Project (RED) campaign—and all but said that Jobs does more than you think, but privately: “Just because he’s been extremely busy, that doesn’t mean that he and his wife, Laurene, have not been thinking about these things. You don’t have to be a friend of his to know what a private person he is or that he doesn’t do things by halves.”

* * *

It’s no criticism to say that Steve Jobs was a complicated man. If you want to become an icon of industry, it’s practically a job requirement, as any biography of Henry Ford or Thomas Edison will attest. There’s also an old saying that if you want to make omelets, you have to break some eggs. Well, Steve Jobs’ omelets were so delicious that people literally lined up around the block to buy them—as Apple’s $76 billion cash hoard attests. It’s only right to mourn the master chef. But as we do, let’s not forget all the delicious complications.

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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