Steve Jobs’ Modest Fortune

Steve Jobs is clearly a very wealthy man. But looking at the Forbes 400 list I was struck by the relative modesty of his $6.1 billion nest egg. These days Apple’s market capitalization dwarfs Microsoft’s, but Forbes has Bill Gates at $54 billion, Steve Ballmer at $13.1 billion, and Paul Allen at $12.7 billion. Google’s market cap is even smaller than Microsoft’s, but Sergey Brin and Larry Page both check in at $15 billion.

It’s not so hard to figure out what’s going on here, but it is a reminder of a lot of the vagaries of life. In any commonsense way, Steve Jobs is a “better” businessman and tech entrepreneur than Paul Allen, but clearly the dollars and cents say otherwise. And by the same token, looking at these divergent fortunes I think you’d be hard-pressed to say that financial incentives at the margin are explaining much of anything. It’s quite plausible to imagine that it pisses Jobs off that Brin & Page have over twice as much money as he does, but if that’s true it would be purely about positioning. People like to appear higher-ranked on lists rather than lower-ranked. Nobody has $6 billion and thinks to himself “man, I need more money.” Yet by the same token, nobody expects Brin & Page to say “we’ve got plenty of money together, who cares if our company is successful.” The incentives to succeed are all there, and all clear enough, but can’t have much of anything to do with cold hard cash.