Steve Jobs’ response to why Apple didn’t pay its engineers more

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Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was a one-man quote machine.
Photo: Ben Stanfield/Flickr CC

Pretty much everyone who met or worked with Steve Jobs has some anecdote about Apple’s late CEO that shines a light on an aspect of his personality and/or approach to life.

The latest is Evan Doll, co-founder of news reading app Flipboard, who worked at Apple from 2003 to 2009. In a series of tweets, Doll recalls the time Jobs was asked why Apple didn’t better remunerate its engineers.

Jobs’ response was classic Steve: part obfuscation, part passive-aggressive masterclass, all while subtly (or not-so-subtly) reminding the asker that they were lucky to be at Apple, and that it was their own fault if they weren’t being paid more.

Jobs’ “steely-eyed” advice underlines the way in which Apple under his rule — while very much a team in a lot of ways — encouraged employees to look at those above them as holding them down, and asked them to view working relationships as competitive efforts to reach the top.

There is, of course, a bit more to it than that. During the time Doll was at Apple, the company was illegally working with “rivals” like Google to make sure they didn’t poach each other’s employees — thereby suppressing wages. Doll just received his check from the eventual lawsuit settlement, which he notes worked out at just $1,000 per year for the time he worked at Apple.

Doll also points out that Apple engineers were well-remunerated in stock options, if not basic salary. Short-sightedly, he sold his almost immediately. “I naively sold my first ESPP stock in 2004, netted $4k to pay student loans- 2x my money, pretty sweet!” he wrote. The problem? “[I]t’d be worth $500k today,” he continues. Doh!

I still love the Steve Jobs quote, though.

Via: Business Insider

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  • CelestialTerrestrial

    I think it was that Steve was trying to bring Apple back to profitability and to never go back to losing money once they got their heads above water financially speaking. If the employees were smart, they would just stick it out and not cash in their stocks and options so quickly, because they would have all made a bloody fortune had they kept their stock/stock options for at least 10 to 15 years. Such is life. Some held on to their stock, but many sold it. I read one interview and Jobs sold his stock immediately because he thought that since he was worth $5 Billion that he already had enough money and he wasn’t really greedy like Gates and others because $5 Billion is PLENTY of money. He didn’t feel he needed more than that, that’s why he only took a $1 dollar a year salary and he sold his options quickly. He mentioned in the interview that if the company did well, then he’d make some money from the options and if the company didn’t do well, then it would be reflected in the stock price. I think he only wanted options where he would sell them as soon as they vested, paid the huge tax bill and not dwell on it since he’s already wealthy from the Pixar buyout. If Jobs was paid commensurate with tons of stock, salary, and options with how he would have been paid normally, he would have been far wealthier than Gates by the time of his death. But Jobs felt he was already “rich enough” being worth $3 to $5 Billion. I thought that was kinda cool that he did that. I think a lot of CEO’s are trying to be Bill Gates rich and in doing so they end up laying people off by the thousands when times are tough instead of just running the company lean and not taking huge salaries with tons of stock and holding on to it to compete against Bill Gates’ wealth.

    • macrumpton

      Sure, they should have gambled that the company was going to increase it’s success and get a windfall in a decade, rather than asking for a salary that was fair (outside of colluding with google) and getting more money in their current paycheck. Does that make sense?
      Also, by your logic, if employees are guaranteeing they wont be laid off by an ailing company by taking lower salaries, wouldn’t holding onto stock be a bad idea?
      Finally if the employees take a lower salary in case the company does not do as well as expected, shouldn’t they get some kind of big bonus if it does better than expected?