What the rich do with their money, the Ballmer, Zuckerberg edition

This week, both Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, made news for what they did with their money.

Ballmer is buying the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $120 million to schools in low income San Francisco Bay Area communities, as the Mercury News’ Brandon Bailey wrote.  Chan was interviewed on NBC’s Today show discussing the couple’s thinking behind the donation.

The two expenditures point to some potential differences between two different generations of tech leaders.

In short, the younger generation led by Zuckerberg may be thinking more about philanthropy earlier in their careers. For example, Zuckerberg, who is worth an estimated $19 billion, has agreed, as part of The Giving Pledge, to give more than half of his wealth away in his lifetime.

Ballmer, worth more than $15 billion, has made donations, such as $10 million to a Washington health services organization and $10 million to Harvard. But he is not listed on The Giving Pledge’s website as one of those who have made the pledge, although his name has been floated as a possible donor.

Likewise, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, didn’t really begin his philanthropic effort until after he took a step back from the day-to-day operation of his company.

Being a philanthropist takes time and each big donation, for better or worse, puts a person more in the media’s eye. A New Yorker article of Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark schools detailed how some of the money had been spent and possibly misspent. But in an op-ed in the Mercury News, Zuckerberg and Chan said that the work there is underway and takes time.

The donation this week to Bay Area schools may answer questions some have had about what Zuckerberg intended to do with his wealth.

Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com, questioned Zuckerberg’s $1 billion pledge to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, telling San Francisco Magazine:

Where’s it gone? What good is it doing now? I’m sure his intentions are positive, but we need to see that money get distributed. What are his targets? What are his philanthropic interests? We know that he has a political interest with his 501(c)(4) [Fwd.us, a lobbying group pushing for tech-friendly federal policies], but what are his philanthropic interests?

Zuckerberg and his wife are just getting started showing what they plan to do.

This post was updated with the correct amount that Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are donating to local schools. It is $120 million. 

Above: Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg.  (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Michelle Quinn Michelle Quinn (212 Posts)

Michelle Quinn is a Business Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Prior to her current role, she was the Silicon Valley correspondent at Politico covering tech policy and politics. She has also covered the tech industry at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a blogger for the New York Times.