Bankruptcy and Steve Jobs

09 Oct Bankruptcy and Steve Jobs

Words are powerful. The word “bankruptcy” carries enormous emotional baggage. People hear it and immediately jump to conclusions. “Failure,” “shame,” “irresponsibility,” “ruin” all come to mind.

Recently, I met with an elderly couple. They had significant cash flow problems, and a Chapter 13 bankruptcy would benefit them greatly. As I do with all prospective clients, I gave them the initial disclosures required by the Bankruptcy Code along with my “non fee agreement fee agreement.” I call it that because it’s simply a required agreement which says that their first consultation is free. It’s silly, but required by the Bankruptcy Code.

The reason they would not sign either document became immediately clear. The first thing they said was, “We’re not here to discuss bankruptcy!”

And then Steve Jobs died a few days later

Admittedly, I’m shifting gears a bit, but bear with me. We all know Steve Jobs passed away this past week. I can’t add anything meaningful to the accolades others have deservedly heaped upon him. I’ve got an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod, and, of course, an iMac. We all know how good these products are and how much we love them and the way Apple supports them. I also have work computers on which I run Windows 7, and Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple made Windows better as well–albeit indirectly.

When we think of Steve Jobs, we think of a lot of things. Bankruptcy, however, is certainly not a word which comes to mind. After all, Jobs and Apple have been a success. Money has been made and investors paid–in heaps.

But What If Things Had Been Different?

In the 90s, Apple wasn’t the household name it is today. Most believed that PCs would continue to dominate the market (I did) and that Apple would shrivel up and remain a tiny company with only a niche market. What if Apple needed to file bankruptcy to stay alive while it reinvented itself? Would it have filed bankruptcy–even with all the emotional baggage and stigma? I think so.

One of the many insightful things Steve Jobs said is this: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

Did you hear that?

“Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” Isn’t that exactly what these older folks were doing? (“Bankruptcy means we’re ruined.” “Bankruptcy means we’re a failure.” “Bankruptcy is immoral.” “Bankruptcy will hurt our credit.” “Bankruptcy is not an option.”)

We need another word!

I wish we could come up with another word for bankruptcy. Companies do it. It was “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and now it’s “KFC.” (Fried is bad–emotional reaction averted.) Maybe we could call it a “financial petition” or something like that?

In the meantime bankruptcy is bankruptcy. And a rose by any other name is still a rose. Don’t be trapped by dogma when it comes to your financial options. Steve Jobs most certainly wouldn’t have been.

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Russell A. DeMott is a Charleston, South Carolina bankruptcy lawyer who represents consumer debtors in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. He is the author of the Charleston Bankruptcy Blog. He is also a member of the South Carolina Bankruptcy Blog. He files bankruptcy cases for clients in the Charleston, South Carolina division, which runs from Myrtle Beach to Beaufort. The DeMott Law Firm also represents clients in foreclosure defense and mortgage modification. You can also connect with Russ on Google Plus Russell DeMott. Russ can be contacted directly at (843) 695-0830 or by email at
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