Steve Jobs: The Dark Legacy Beyond the Cool Devices
After seeing article after article on Steve Jobs’s passing and the ensuing sadness around this event with the proclamations of Mr. Jobs being a visionary, hero, revolutionary, great leader, etc. – or as Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, says, “It felt a lot like you just heard that, you know, John Lennon got shot, or JFK, or Martin Luther King” – I started to feel a little weird. Something didn’t smell right. Some substance was missing…
I knew that Mr. Jobs was a charismatic speaker, a tech god, and a unique CEO, but I felt like maybe we weren’t getting the full picture. So I did a little digging. And the more I found, I started to worry that maybe he was getting too much praise, without a balanced look at some of the darker paths that Mr. Jobs chose to go down.
For all of Mr. Job’s business successes, it’s been well documented that Mr. Jobs, a self-proclaimed Buddhist:
1. Did Not Practice Philanthropy with his Billions or Support it at Apple
Despite being worth $8.3 billion, has had zero public charitable donations. This may still happen with his passing and there is always the possibility that he gave anonymously. Jobs went as far as closing his charitable foundation 15 months after opening it in 1986 and never re-opened it.
And when he returned to Apple to lead the company in 1997, he “canceled Apple’s philanthropic programs and they have remained dormant ever since.”
2. Belittled and Verbally Abused Co-Workers
He was feared by those who worked for him. Stanford professor and author, Robert Sutton, once said, “As soon as people heard I was writing a book on assholes, they would come up to me and start telling a Steve Jobs story,” says Sutton. “The degree to which people in Silicon Valley are afraid of Jobs is unbelievable. He made people feel terrible; he made people cry.”
He also “parked his Mercedes in handicapped spaces, periodically reduces subordinates to tears, and fires employees in angry tantrums.”
He also reportedly criticized his underlings ideas and then praised them as his own.
By all accounts, Mr. Jobs was not a very nice human being.
3. Profited with Complete Disregard for the Environment
All those great Apple products that everyone loved to buy all eventually ended up in a landfill after they became obsolete in a year or two. According to Apple, they also produced 14.8 million metric tons of CO2 annually.
Dell and HP reported buying much more clean energy than Apple; Dell 58 times more, and Hewlett-Packard five time more, according to the latest disclosures the companies made to the EPA database.
A Chinese environmental group (yes, they do have them, surprisingly) ranked Apple dead last out of 29 multinational corporations based on how each company dealt with inquiries about pollution and occupational health hazard incidents at factories in their supply chain.
4. Cared More About Profit than Humanity
Jobs outsourced manufacturing jobs to China and provided workers with unsatisfactory working conditions. Apple admitted that a number of its workers in China were poisoned and work regularly in unsafe conditions. After that admission, an explosion in one of its factories killed two and injured 16. This, on top of an admission that one of its outsourced factories employed 42 underage workers.
5. Lied Under Oath to Prevent Child Payments
Jobs, an adopted child himself, had an illegitimate child and for two years, though already wealthy, he denied paternity while the mother went on welfare. At one point, Jobs even swore in a signed court document that he couldn’t be Lisa’s father because he was “sterile and infertile, and as a result thereof, did not have the physical capacity to procreate a child.” A blood test later proved he was the father and he did begin making payments. Job’s fertility miraculously returned as he fathered 3 more children.
…I won’t go into the stock option backdating scandal, sexist remarks to female co-workers, or countless other claims.
Why Bring this Up?
Mr. Jobs had friends, a family, and colleagues that I’m sure cared very much about him. I send my condolences to them as I would to anyone who lost a loved one. I do not revel in his death or in others mourning of him. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings in lieu of another human’s passing.
Mr. Jobs is lauded for making a ton of money, having a rare combination of technological genius and marketing savvy, and being very charismatic. Those traits are not disputed by me. However, I do believe that a man’s legacy should be based on more than money, ego, and creating cool electronic “stuff”. Life is more than business. And the facts do speak for themselves.
Full disclosure: I use a MacBook Pro at work, and love it. I’m not anti-Apple or anti Mr. Jobs. Just a guy questioning how our society is choosing its idols.