In search of the elusive billionaires at the core of Apple

Finding billionaires in Silicon Valley isn’t hard. But tracking down members of the three-comma club at Apple is a less fruitful endeavour.

In search of the elusive billionaires at the core of Apple

By Tom Metcalf and Anders Melin

Finding billionaires in Silicon Valley isn’t hard.

Dropbox’s Arash Ferdowsi and Veeva Systems’ Peter Gassner have both crossed the threshold this year, and tech fortunes make up a fifth — or about $1 trillion (€800bn) — of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

But tracking down members of the three-comma club at Apple is a less fruitful endeavour, even though the iPhone-maker is the world’s most valuable company, with a market capitalisation of $879bn.

Chairman Art Levinson is the only insider to make the cut, and Apple shares account for just 20% of his $1bn fortune, according to regulatory filings. The rest comes from his long tenure at Genentech, where he was chairman and chief executive, and an early stake in Google.

No other Apple insider comes close. CEO Tim Cook has a $600m fortune, which reflects a pay programme 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 US 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’s led to relatively small insider holdings, underscoring how few known billionaires Apple has spawned.

That sets it apart from other tech mega-caps, whose founders and occasional employees increasingly dominate the billionaires list tracking the wealth of the world’s 500 richest people.

They include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alphabet’s Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Jan Koum. Fortunes associated with these companies account for about 10% of the index.

Other than $3m salary and a $6m target bonus, Mr Cook’s compensation largely comprises a $376m 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. Mr Cook’s deputies each have annual target compensation of about $23m, 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 shareholders approved a pay package valued at $2.6bn for Elon Musk last month. Facebook’s billionaire operating chief, Sheryl Sandberg, collected $24.5m in 2016. Oracle 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 Mr Jobs, who owned a 15% stake in the company at the time of its 1980 initial public offering. That holding would be valued at $132bn today. But Mr Jobs, who died in 2011, sold all but a single share of his then $100m 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 $18bn with two-thirds of her wealth in Walt Disney and other holdings. She doesn’t work at Apple.

- Bloomberg

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