Five Admirable Billionaires

1. Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple Computer.

C’mon, you knew I was going to pick Steve, didn’t you?

It’s not that he doesn’t have his faults. He’s notoriously egotistical, can be breathtakingly rude, and allegedly cheated Woz on the payments for the design of Breakout. (Still, Woz seems to have forgiven him.)

I’m not sure I’d want to work for Steve Jobs, and I’m still angry that he destroyed the Newton for no good reason, but it can’t be denied that he has turned Apple’s product designs from lackluster to stunning, and brought back a wonderful OS that may yet save the company in the long run.

2. Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer.

His PCs may suck, but that’s just because they run Windows. He managed to turn a dorm-room business selling cheap PC clones into one of the biggest computer corporations in the world, and did it by playing fair. I just wish they’d sell more Linux boxes.

3. Gordon Moore, founder of Intel.

I’ve never liked Intel’s instruction sets or processor architectures, but you can’t deny that Gordon Moore was a hard working state-educated engineer who changed the world with his semiconductor designs. Furthermore, in recent years he has given away half his fortune to charity, without begging for press attention the way Bill Gates has for his meager handouts.

4. George Soros.

Let’s be up-front about it: George Soros makes his wealth playing the elaborate game of poker that we call the international stock and currency markets; he doesn’t really produce anything, per se, he’s just a middleman. It’s how he uses that wealth that makes him different.

Soros is a Hungarian Jew who escaped the Nazis and fled to America. He’s been an outspoken philanthropist since the early 70s, and isn’t afraid to take a strong reformist political position. How can you not respect a billionaire prepared to lash out at the Bush administration?

5. Ted Turner, founder of the Turner media empire.

Another mouthy billionaire is Ted Turner. Sure, he can be tactless, but he speaks from the heart and has a sense of humor. When he began CNN, it was viewed as a joke by everyone in the industry, yet he built it into a global news presence… and then sold it, at which point it slowly turned into a joke again, but never mind.

Turner is one of the biggest landowners in the USA, something which seems to bother Michael Moore. I’m not sure why, as Turner isn’t using his land for factories, strip malls or luxury homes. Instead, he’s using it for conservation. He has received many awards for the billions he has spent trying to advance mankind’s practical knowledge of nature conservation practices, and he has also been a major donor to other charitable causes.