Apple Is the Richest Company, So Where Are the Billionaires?
Finding billionaires in Silicon Valley isn’t hard. Dropbox Inc.’s Arash Ferdowsi and Veeva Systems Inc.’s Peter Gassner have both crossed the threshold this year, and tech fortunes make up a fifth -- or about $1 trillion -- of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
But tracking down members of the three-comma club at Apple Inc. is a less fruitful endeavor, even though the iPhone-maker is the world’s most valuable company, with a market capitalization of $879 billion.
Chairman Art Levinson is the only insider to make the cut, and Apple stock accounts for just 20 percent of his $1 billion fortune, according to regulatory filings. The rest comes from his long tenure at Genentech Inc., where he was chairman and chief executive officer, and an early stake in Google Inc.
No other Apple insider comes close. CEO Tim Cook has a $600 million fortune, which reflects a pay program that’s restrained relative to the company’s size and performance.
According to the Bloomberg Pay Index, which ranks the best-paid senior managers at public U.S. companies, Apple’s leaders are downright bargains. The cost of executive compensation as a fraction of economic profit -- defined as after-tax operating profit minus capital costs -- was the lowest among the companies whose bosses were the country’s 200 best-paid in the most recent fiscal year.
That has led to relatively small insider holdings, underscoring how few known billionaires the Cupertino, California-based company has spawned since its recovery from the brink of bankruptcy in 1997.
“Apple came back from the dead and that messed up the cap table,” said Gene Munster, a co-founder of Loup Ventures and a long-time Apple watcher. “You didn’t have that very centralized ownership any more.”
That sets it apart from other tech mega-caps, whose founders and occasional employees increasingly dominate the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which tracks the wealth of the world’s 500 richest people.
They include Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet Inc.’s Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates and Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and Jan Koum. Fortunes associated with these companies account for about 10 percent of the index.
Other than $3 million in salary and a $6 million target bonus, Cook’s compensation largely comprises a $376 million grant of restricted stock that was awarded when he succeeded Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011 and was meant to pay him for a decade. About one third of the grant is contingent on Apple outperforming the S&P 500 Index. Cook’s deputies each have annual target compensation of about $23 million, most of it in restricted stock.
Alphabet, by contrast, handed the head of its Google unit, Sundar Pichai, nine-figure pay packages for three straight years and gives biennial stock grants worth tens of millions of dollars to senior executives. Tesla Inc. shareholders approved a pay package valued at $2.6 billion for Elon Musk last month. Facebook’s billionaire operating chief, Sheryl Sandberg, collected $24.5 million in 2016. Oracle Corp. has endured years of investor criticism for awarding founder Larry Ellison and co-CEOs Safra Catz and Mark Hurd lavish compensation.
The absence of the uber wealthy at Apple partly reflects the firm’s fractious history with Jobs, who owned a 15 percent stake in the company at the time of its 1980 initial public offering. That holding would be valued at $132 billion today. But Jobs, who died in 2011, sold all but a single share of his then-$100 million stake after he was ousted from the company in 1985, according to Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. He had to rebuild his holdings from scratch when he returned more than a decade later.
His widow Laurene Powell Jobs, an entrepreneur and founder of Emerson Collective, is the sole Apple representative on the wealth ranking. She’s worth $18 billion with two-thirds of her wealth in Walt Disney Co. and other holdings. She doesn’t work at Apple. Levinson, 68, has never appeared on an international wealth ranking. Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment on the net worth of Levinson and Cook.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak held a 7.9 percent stake in 1980, which shrank over time as he sold options at low prices to mid-level employees and gifted shares to those he felt had been shortchanged. His current stake isn’t a matter of public record because only corporate insiders or shareholders with stakes exceeding 5 percent are required to report their interests. But Wozniak’s stake is thought to be in the millions rather than billions.
“Ownership is not something I think about,” Wozniak said in an email.
The iPhone-maker also has been selective with acquisitions. Its largest deal, $3 billion for Beats Electronics in 2014, added hundreds of millions of dollars to the net worth of founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, including more than $400 million of Apple shares that vest later this year. But that pales in comparison to Facebook’s $22 billion purchase of WhatsApp that same year, which made the messenging service’s co-founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, instant billionaires. They have a combined net worth of $16 billion.
It’s possible a few billionaires are hiding in plain sight at Apple’s Cupertino campus where a stake of just 0.11 percent in the company is enough for a 10-figure fortune. That means long-time employees such as Chief Design Officer Jony Ive, a central figure for more than two decades, could own hefty positions, though they’re unlikely to differ materially from that of CEO Cook.
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