Apple, Bill Gates & Patagonia. Corporate greed, philanthropy & the perils of doing good.

Three things caught my attention in the news this week that made me think.

  • Apple made masses of money. (Hat tip every single person on Twitter. Every tech blog in the world. Really, really well done for spotting that).
  • Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company becomes one of California’s first Benefit Corporations. (Hat Tip the excellent and occasionally hirsute Mike McDerment of Freshbooks).
  • Bill Gates came to London and said rich people should pay more taxes to help solve the deficit problems.

In a blog comment on a spectacular display of numberbation from TechCrunch, Percy Chow notes with respect to Apple.

“I never thought I’d say this but Apple is a prime example of corporate greed.

How so?

1. Apple does NOT pay it’s stock holders dividends.

2. Apple has NOT given any significant amount of cash to Charity.

3. Apples war chest is nearly $100 billion. In context, the UN said $30 billion would END world hunger.

Even though I am surrounded by Apple products paid for by me, or my company… I’ve only recently become disillusioned with Apple because of these 3 things.”

Apple currently has a $97.4 billion of cash and cash equivalents. $64 billion of which is offshore. As $64 billion man, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer explained in their earnings call, it would cost money (taxes) to bring this into the US. Duh.

  • Apple is playing by the rules that the market sets, and winning.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, is changing its company status, “gives directors legal cover to consider social and environmental missions over financial returns.” Currently, shareholders are able to sue companies that don’t maximise profit. Any public company that wants to pursue true environmental, sustainable or social programmes (as opposed to just putting some corporate bollocks at the bottom of your email saying please consider the environment before printing this out), could be sued by shareholders. (Patagonia is a private family held company so doesn’t need to worry so much about class action law suits.)

  • Patagonia gets to play by its own rules, and wants to play a part in changing  the rules for everyone’s benefit.

Bill Gates, as an individual, has the potential to be the greatest philanthropist of all time. A man on a mission to solve some of the world’s biggest problems in healthcare. The phenomenal success of his business has given him the freedom to pursue an incredible dream but he is giving his own money away to do so.

  • He is applying some of the rules of the corporate world to do what he believes in. He is in a very rare, very responsible position, that he has assumed for himself. Most billionaires don’t.

Something is wrong with the system and people are trying to change it – this is an interesting article from Bloomberg on legal structures for companies that want to change the system. With the number of lawyers cited in the article though, you know this is going to be an expensive business!.

When Eric Ries was in the UK. We talked a little bit about his idea for a third market that aligns the long term interests of shareholders, customers, employees and the rest of the world. He certainly doesn’t believe it is an easy problem to solve, but in 50 years time, it may be the thing that he is remembered for.



Thanks to Frugal Dad for the nice graphic and note. Nicely put…

The first name in wealth for most people is Bill Gates. So imagine how surprised we were to learn that Bill Gates isn’t even close to the wealthiest man in the world — because he’s given almost half of his money to charity. It is even more relevant recently because today he pledged to give $750 million to the global AIDS fund. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates is projected to save the lives of 7.6 million children under 5 by 2019 through his support of international vaccinations and healthcare alone. Check out some more statistics and see why we think Bill Gates is better than Batman.

microsoft infographic