Nov 4 2011
06:42 pm

When Steve Jobs died, there was an outpouring of sentiment, here and around the world. Yes, Steve Jobs did a lot for the personal computing industry and has ushered in some amazing products (when they work -- your mileage may vary). And some (that I have seen around the web) have nearly immortalized Jobs as the be all to end all in the technology arena.

But, what about Bill Gates? This Harvard Business Review post posits that Bill Gates has done much more for the world than has Steve Jobs.

Bill Gates stepped away from Microsoft in 2006 and, despite the company's growing troubles in the face of the mobile disruption, has devoted his genius to solving the world's biggest problems, despite the fact that solving those problems doesn't create profit or fame.* Gates committed his talents to eliminating diseases, increasing development standards, and generally fighting inequality.


Since 1994, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation amassed an endowment of over $31 billion in funds to fight the world's most difficult issues. But it hasn't merely accumulated funds, the foundation has already given away over $25 billion. Those aren't trivial numbers. In seventeen years, the foundation has raised and given away more than one-tenth of Apple's extraordinary market capitalization. While the developed world takes things like clean water, basic healthcare, and the availability of food for granted — there are billions of human beings that don't have such fundamental resources.

While Bill & Melinda Gates went out to "save the world" (literally), what has Jobs done, outside of Apple development?

Personally, I would have posed the question as which of these men has made the bigger impact on humanity, and it would be Bill Gates hands down, not just for the corporation he built, but for the humanitarian work he and his wife do.

And I do agree that just because one is a good business leader that does not mean one should be idolized. Although, I would say that this supposed idolization by some is due to Jobs' recent death. But, I wonder, would Bill Gates be hailed in the same way as Jobs had it been him that died?

Note this post is not about Apple vs Windows, this is about leadership, and leadership qualities.

Tess's picture

famous people

As an older person, your post reminds me that not only the famous, but all of us are called to do our best with the time we have on earth. And, to not judge others, lest we be judged.

Factchecker's picture

Gates is to be admired, no

Gates is to be admired, no doubt. Is Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter getting Jobs-like credit for doing many of the same type of things Gates is doing? I'd be a lot bigger fan of Gates if he got serious to do something major to combat the biggest threat facing humanity, but he doesn't hardly seem to even be on board to tackle global warming. He is investing in some of those small nuke plants, I think. I'm sure they'll make a difference.

Jobs just wanted to make a great company, like the old h-p, or IBM (in some ways). I think he succeeded, and millions (maybe billions?) really love to use Apple products every day. Not sure Gates did that.

tennesseevaluesauthority's picture

The only way to know for sure

The only way to know for sure if the reaction to Gates' death would be equal is to find a way to have Gates die too young of a tragic disease. Since he doesn't seem eager to participate in the experiment, we'll have to just imagine.

Why do we have to idolize one over the other? For that matter, why do we have to idolize either one?

Both men built wildly successful companies and played a significant role in the communications and technology revolution that we are in the middle of today. Isn't that enough?

I've seen more than one post since Jobs' death that Gates deserved more praise than Jobs was getting because of Gates' humanitarian work. I suppose if Gates would hurry up and die, we could heap all that well-deserved praise upon him. [sarcasm...]

I'm not an Apple fanboy (my laptop is Windows powered, my smartphone is Droid), but I find this particular topic weirdly perverse. An ABC reporter asked a similar question on Google+ in the days after Jobs' death, so I'll respond here with the same questions I asked him. How is it you happen to have access to Steve Jobs' personal financial data? How is it you happen to know that one of the people best known for protecting his personal privacy never contributed a dime anonymously to a cause? Is the only way we can judge a man's worth and value to our culture is how many hospital wings or university buildings are named after him?

I think Gates is doing brilliant things with his foundation. He deserves (and receives) regular kudos for that work. The reaction to Jobs' death in the public wasn't an attempt by anyone to diminish Gates' role in the culture. I suppose there were people back in the early days of the 20th century who may have wondered whether it was fitting to eulogize Edison since they'd never seen Edison put a coin in the Salvation Army's bucket, but they'd be missing the point.

Regardless of whether Jobs did or did not invest in the 501(c)(3) that would earn him status as a humanitarian in anyone's particular eyes, I can suggest this result:

Bill Gates' foundation will fund work to change the world that will be conducted on tools created or inspired by Steve Jobs. I think that should be enough for either man to have a few kind words said over his grave.

CE Petro's picture

Perverse but fascinating

I keep running across these articles, and yes it is very perverse, but on the other hand, I find it fascinating to watch folks put in their opinions, and there are those that would idolize Jobs. Although, I also think the same people that would idolize Jobs in death idolized Jobs in life.

It isn't unusual for the living to put a spin on a celebrity's (defined as someone famous) life once they have died. We've seen that done with so many celebrities (including politicians) in the past. But, I don't think the Jobs vs Gates thread is going to end anytime soon.

I don't agree that either men should be idolized. Personally, I don't think anyone should be idolized. But, what I think/believe doesn't mean squat, because there are a lot of threads on idolizing (insert famous person). What, then, would be the qualifying points for a person to be idolized?

Human nature, and how we respond to a person's life and death are pretty interesting to watch.

WhitesCreek's picture

I don't see anything in

I don't see anything in either Gates or Jobs to idolize. I admire certain things about each one of them though I'm much less a fan of Jobs, whose seduce you, use you, abuse you relationships with people he burned through earned him well deserved hatred at times. I idolize people like John Muir, Martin L. King, Jr., and others who actually gave something to humanity's future happiness in a meaningful way as opposed to cooler toys.

Stick's picture

I'm with you. Everybody lauds

I'm with you. Everybody lauds the Gates Foundation. However, in my field, the Gates Foundation has become an un-accountable engine for disastrous education policies. In the name of philanthropy, he has become a destructive force. And, while this is outside my area of expertise, the foundation has been the object of a good deal of criticism from many working in the aid giving community.

As far as I'm concerned both Gates and Jobs are just the latest incarnation of wealth worship in the US. (/rant)

Min's picture


Bill Gates may know technology, but he doesn't know beans about effective education policy. Unfortunately, he's the 800 pound gorilla in the room, and he's really throwing his weight around.

cafkia's picture

While the Gates Foundation is

While the Gates Foundation is rightfully admired for its work, we should not overlook the other, huge, donation Gates has made.

Much of the reich-wing would love to be able to point to Gates and say that they were following his lead in making, hoarding and using money. But by publicly using his incredible wealth for the good of humanity, he has taken that away from them. Warren Buffet appears headed in the same general direction if on a slightly different path. Though they may receive accolades and admiration for what they do with their money, the real gift is the example they set.

WhitesCreek's picture

Let's remember that it was

Let's remember that it was Ted Turner who challenged Gates and Buffett to "give it away".

Mary the prez's picture

And this is the real point!

And it is why should any human 'idolize' any other? Jobs was brilliant as is Gates. Both made billions from their skill, talent, technological innovations. But neither deserves elevation as an idol.

Ted Turner was right. Gates has more than given 'it' away but there is so much more he could be doing to help America. I don't know about Jobs' humanitarian efforts. But I would guess that if each of these multi-billionaires, plus Buffett, Soros, etc had invested some of their wealth in humanitarian causes here, in the US of A, like a foundation that funds new jobs, more support for public education, that they would all be much closer to becoming 'idolized'.

cafkia's picture

I strongly disagree that they

I strongly disagree that they should focus their efforts here. That is a large part of what got the world to where it is today, focusing only on the "us" and ignoring the "them". We need to find a way to see the whole world as "us" and insist that all of "us" have the same opportunities health and education and general happiness.

The physical products that help generate some of the unimaginable wealth concentrated in the individuals you named, are made in a variety of nations and made from materials sourced in an even larger variety of nations. The processes have created pollution even as they have created wealth. The idea that the wealth should benefit the United States and the pollution is the rest of the world's to deal with is easily the most republican thing you could possibly communicate. It is a variation on the socialize the risk, privatize the profits, attitude that has led to the Occupy movement.

(hint: "republican" is not a compliment)

Pam Strickland's picture

The products that I have

The products that I have owned that Bill Gates has been associated with have most been pains in the rear. The products I have owned that Steve Jobs has been associated with have been reliable and have also been backed up with above and beyond customer service.

I do not know anyone who has worked directly with Bill Gates. I do, however, have a close personal friend who has worked with Apple for over 31 years who considers Steve Jobs not only a professional colleague but also a personal friend. He respects and admires him in both counts. Yes, I am told he was a prickley and particular personality in the professional realm, but still respectable. In the personal realm he was faithful and thoughtful more often than not. That's what most of us should aim for.

None of us are perfect. I don't idolize anyone, but I do respect and admire many people. Steve Jobs is one of those people. And I'm judging him on what he did in a life that was tragically cut short. Bill Gates, well, the jury is still out.

SallyJ's picture



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