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Occupy Cupertino? Not Likely.

Posted by Peter Cenedella on October 6, 2011 12:32 PM

Sometimes the juxtaposition of two headlines can trigger an a-ha moment. Today news from the east coast shows growing protests against financial institutions as Occupy Wall Steet rolls on, while out west Apple’s visionary genius Steve Jobs has succumbed to cancer and died at 56. 

Steve Jobs built a company that surpassed Exxon this year as the leader in market capitalization. His personal net wealth in 2010 was estimated over $8 billion, making him the 42nd-richest American, according to Forbes. And yet it is hard to picture frustrated activists, union leaders, or downwardly mobile members of the squeezed middle class mustering at 1 Infinity Way in Cupertino to rail against Apple’s profits, or Jobs’s greed. Why?

Simple. Steve Jobs built something awesome. And then, reliably, year in and year out, he built more awesome things. Things that made people’s lives better by tapping into their humanity, their need to be creative, their need to be connected, to share, to communicate, to be entertained and to be freed up.

These things were tangible — revolutionized desktops for students and entrepreneurs; sleek and powerful laptops for all; iPods to provide our personal soundtracks and iTunes to share those sounds; when the mobile phone market was scattered and hard to understand, the iPhone; and then, when people seemed like they could use something midsized that consolidated the e-reader trend and the passion for apps and web browsing, the iPad. You could touch them, and they would move you. 

By contrast the banks and financial institutions under siege today have a hard time making the case for their contribution to society. Of course we all know that capital drives everything, and these institutions are essential to the lifeblood of the economy. After all, Apple never would have grown without financial institutions’ backing. Banks make loans and help create jobs, and they underwrite invention and progress.

But there’s a perceived, if not real, disproportion between what good they do and the hefty profits they show, as well as the rates they charge. There’s a sense in the land that these are institutions that do not create anything awesome, and then taxpayers bail them out, and still they don’t create anything awesome – or even say thank you. 

And let’s face it: If there’s anything worse than a parasite, it’s an impolite parasite. 

Almost every protester you talk to occupying Wall Street likely owns at least one Apple product. And you’d be hard pressed to find one who would begrudge Jobs, or Apple, their reams of cash. Double standard? No. Why? Simple. Because Steve Jobs and Apple earned it, by making the world a better place. 

Steve Jobs was also polite enough—and savvy to the symbolism—to pay himself a salary of a dollar as Apple’s CEO. This says, why gild the lilly? I’ll take my earnings, but why take more?

Here’s where the Occupy Wall Street story and the legacy of Steve Jobs net out, when you put them together: Make something awesome, and be polite about it, and you are entitled to all you earn. It may sound trite, but it’s a lesson everyone in business, or business school, might do well to ponder long and hard.

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Mike United States says:

It most certainly is a double standard.  You don't believe most of these other CEOs aren't working hard to earn it either?  Did Steve Jobs net $8 billion from his $1/yr salary - no!  He earned it the same way these other CEOs are earning theirs.  Of course there are CEOs out there undeserving of the lucrative pay.  In fact, one can certainly argue that nobody deserves the millions of dollars any of them earn . . . but this is a FREE society we live in.  If the company and board of directors determine they want to pay those salaries and incentives, then they should be able to do it.  Or we could become a socialist society . . . and look how well that's turned out for countries that have tried it.

October 7, 2011 10:59 AM #

Pete Cenedella United States says:

Mike, thanks for your comment. Let's get our terms straight: Socialism is a system of government wherein people don't own all their wealth but are forced by the government to share it with others, according to the government's estimation of who is deserving. I would argue that taxpayer bailouts of financial institutions who were free to make good or bad investments and business decisions in a largely unregulated environment is the definition of socialism. Transferring taxpayer wealth to them to prop them up after their incompetence in the free market would have Adam Smith rolling in his grave, and Edmuund Burke too. However, if that argument is not compelling to you, I would suggest you also consider a functionalist one, from a business standpoint: that squeezing the middle class shrinks markets and kills profits for all.

October 7, 2011 07:31 PM #

php programming United States says:

Regrettably, for most cloud computing platforms the car example you allow doesn’t work out. If you see a car as a means to an end, and all of you cherish is getting there, then you need an application platform like Google’s AppEngine. Here you merely add an practical application, and the rest is handled. If on the other hand you run ec2, you’re no longer worrying about hardware, but still about instances and virtual servers. All of them run OS’s that need to be maintained; it’s like taking taxi’s but still having to know everything about the taxi’s engines. I predict that at some point we’ll move towards AppEngine like models or ‘managed clouds’.

October 10, 2011 05:03 AM #

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