Apple CEO Tim Cook is donating his entire fortune to charity. Well, minus his nephew’s college education, that is. Cook joins an ever-growing list of wealthy philanthropists who have pledged nearly all their fortunes to charitable causes.
News leaked in a very quiet and unassuming Tim Cook way–nested deep in an extensive Fortune profile of the Apple CEO. Since Cook replaced Steve Jobs as CEO in 2010, most questions he’s fielded have had to do with leading Apple from Jobs’s example–but as Fortune points out, Cook has (quietly) veered from Jobs’s example in the years since, including by endorsing philanthropy.
But Cook donating his wealth–which CNN says is closing in on a billion dollars–is certainly in line with the attitude Jobs drilled into Apple: the need to forget limits and reshape the possible. Focused through Cook’s desire to give back, the Jobs Optimism is a strike at the traditional executive policy of hoarding wealth. Cook described Jobs’s aggressive attitude adjustment this way in his recent interview with Fast Company:
Steve felt that most people live in a small box. They think they can’t influence or change things a lot. I think he would probably call that a limited life. And more than anybody I’ve ever met, Steve never accepted that.
He got each of us [his top executives] to reject that philosophy. If you can do that, then you can change things. If you embrace that the things that you can do are limitless, you can put your ding in the universe. You can change the world.
That was the huge arc of his life, the common thread. That’s what drove him to have big ideas. Through his actions, way more than any preaching, he embedded this nonacceptance of the status quo into the company.
Cook follows wealthy former CEOs like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in donating maximum personal wealth to charitable causes, but all are following in the trend of the first great extreme philanthropist: Chuck Feeney, former CEO of Duty Free Shoppers. Famously frugal, often seen wearing a cheap digital watch and flying coach, three decades ago Feeney put nearly all of his $4 billion fortune into his Atlantic Philanthropies charitable trust that will deplete before his life ends and has been living quietly ever since. As Fast Company wrote, this trend of giving significant portions of wealth while still living, as opposed to setting up a trust that donates after its patron’s death, is gaining speed:
“We’re seeing all this new wealth, especially West Coast wealth and technology wealth, which doesn’t necessarily have a place tied to it. They just have very different sensibilities,” Ben Hecht tells Fast Company. Hecht is CEO of Living Cities, a New York City nonprofit that works directly with many of the world’s largest foundations. “Many of them don’t have any interest in building a perpetual institution. I think it’s not in their culture. They want to give it away, and they want to be active in giving it away.”