The Life and Legacy of Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Legacy Of Innovation: Co-Founder of Apple, Founder of NeXT, CEO of Pixar

Steve Jobs

Steven Paul Jobs died October 5, 2011, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56. He was the co-founder, two-time CEO, and chairman of Apple Inc. He is survived by his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, and four children.

The achievements in Jobs' career were numerous and significant. He helped to popularize the personal computer, lead the development of groundbreaking products including the Macintosh, iPod, and iPhone, and lead Pixar Animation Studios to prominence. Jobs’ charisma, drive for success and control, and vision contributed to revolutionary changes in the use and impact of technology in the daily lives of most people in the world.

Steve Jobs' Early Life

Born in San Francisco in 1955 to a Syrian immigrant father and a mother raised in Wisconsin, Jobs was was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs of Santa Clara, Calif. Jobs attended high school in Cupertino, Calif., the city where Apple is based. In 1972, he briefly attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., but dropped out after a semester. Jobs returned to California in 1974, where he worked at Atari. Jobs' friend and eventual business partner Steve Wozniak also worked at Atari at the time.

Apple: Rise and Eventual Ouster

Jobs co-founded Apple Inc., then known as Apple Computer, with Wozniak. Their original business provided a circuit board for hobbyists to build their own computers. Despite that homebrew beginning, Apple helped usher in the age of the personal computer with the introduction of the Apple II in 1976.

Those machines soon gave way to a revolutionary change in desktop computing—the Macintosh. The Mac OS was the first commercially available and widely embraced system to use the graphical user interface that is common today. It was also the first to use a mouse for interacting with icons on the screen. The Mac was a giant success and rocketed Jobs and Apple into position as one of the world’s most important computer companies.

The company made a huge splash with its 1984 Super Bowl commercial that introduced that Macintosh. The ad played on George Orwell's novel 1984 and positioned IBM as Big Brother, while Apple represented heroic rebels struggling for freedom.

By that time, Jobs had lured the experienced executive John Sculley away from PepsiCo to be Apple’s CEO. But, amid a 1985 sales slump, Jobs lost a corporate power struggle to Sculley and the company’s board of directors. He left Apple.

NeXT: A New Challenge

Jobs then founded NeXT Computer, a company that took the graphical lessons learned from the success of the Mac and married them to the computing power of the Unix operating system. The stylish and technologically advanced, but expensive, NeXT computers never caught on in the way that the Apple II or Mac product lines did. NeXT was able to maintain a steady business from 1985-1997. In 1997, NeXT took on a new, and much more central role—at Apple.

Pixar: A Hobby Becomes a Powerhouse

While at NeXT, Jobs purchased a computer graphics division of Lucasfilm Ltd. in 1986 for $10 million. That division became Pixar Animation Studios. Jobs served as its CEO and majority shareholder.

Jobs originally envisioned Pixar as a computer hardware company that would sell high-end machines to Hollywood. When that business failed to take off, the company transformed into a maker of animated movies with a contract with Disney.

Under Jobs’ leadership, Pixar became a dominant movie-making force in Hollywood, delivering a string of smash hits, including Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Wall-E, among others.

In 2006, Jobs engineered the sale of Pixar to the Walt Disney Co. The deal landed him a spot on Disney’s board and made him the company’s largest individual shareholder. After the conclusion of that deal, Fortune Magazine named Jobs its Most Powerful Businessman of 2007.

The Return to Apple: Triumph

Jobs earned that title not only due to his role at Disney but also because he had also returned to Apple as its Chairman and CEO.

In late 1996, Jobs had overseen the sale of NeXT to Apple and returned to a leadership position in the company he co-founded. The technology underlying NeXT’s hardware and software was acquired in a $429 million deal. It became the foundation of Apple’s next-generation Mac OS X operating system.

When Apple CEO Gil Amelio was ousted by the company’s board of directors in 1997, Jobs returned to the company as its interim CEO.

At that time, Apple was foundering under low marketshare, a confused OS-licensing strategy, and an unfocused product line. All of this led to much speculation in the press and online that the company would either merge with another firm or go out of business. In order to keep the company afloat, Jobs immediately began a series of sometimes-unpopular product cuts. This included cancelling middlingly successful but passionately followed products like the Newton PDA.

The first major hit product of Jobs’ second tenure at Apple was the iMac, an all-in-one computer introduced in 1998. It is still in production today. The iMac was followed by a string of hit laptop and desktop computers, though some failures—such as the Power Mac G4 cube—were mixed in.

Under Jobs’ leadership, Apple returned from the brink of bankruptcy to again become a stable, successful company. But, thanks to the introduction of a small gadget, the company would soon skyrocket.

The iPod

In October 2001, Apple unveiled the first iPod. The cigarette-pack-sized digital music player offered 5 GB of storage (enough for about 1,000 songs) and a simple interface. It was an instant hit.

The development of the iPod had been ordered by Jobs—who disliked existing digital music players and their difficult interfaces—and was overseen by engineering head Jon Rubinstein and product designer Jonathan Ive.

The iPod worked with Apple’s desktop music management software, iTunes, which had been introduced in January 2001. The combination of ease of use and powerful features offered by the pair made the iPod a smash. Apple began a quick expansion of the iPod product line to include the MininanoShuffle, and later the touch. It introduced new iPods roughly every six months.

ITunes also evolved and added the iTunes Store for sales of downloadable music in 2003 and movies in 2005. With that, Apple cemented its place in the music industry and made the iPod/iTunes combination the de facto standard for digital music. By 2008, Apple had become the world's largest retailer of music (online or offline), and record companies began to worry about Apple’s dominance in their business. In 2009, the iTunes Store sold its 6 billionth song.

The iPhone

In January 2007, Apple expanded on the success of the iPod, and positioned itself to revolutionize another market, when it announced the iPhone. That device was developed with Jobs’ oversight and involvement and was an instant hit upon its release. The first iPhone sold 270,000 units in its first 30 hours of availability. Its successor, the iPhone 3G, sold 1 million units in its first three days just a year later.

By March 2009, Apple had sold over 17 million iPhones, and had surpassed quarterly sales of the previously dominant smartphone, the Blackberry.

Following on the success of the iTunes Store, the iPhone got an App Store, offering third-party software, in July 2008. By January 2009, it had registered 500 million downloads. It had taken the iTunes Store two years to reach the same mark. Apple had another hit on its hands.

Health Leave

Amidst this success, Jobs was dogged by questions about his health, especially after the Worldwide Developers Conference in 2006 where he looked significantly thinner than he had in the past. 

In January 2009, Jobs issued a statement saying that his appearance was related to a hormonal imbalance that drained his body of necessary proteins. The statement added that his doctors thought they’d found a cause, that he’d seek treatment, and that he wouldn’t speak more on the topic, as he felt it was a personal matter.

However, less than 10 days later it was announced that Jobs’ health problems were more serious than first realized. He’d be taking a six-month leave of absence from the company. The company’s stock initially took a beating, but recovered to a level only a few points below the announcement within about a week. Tim Cook, the company’s chief operating officer, served as CEO in Jobs’ stead.

Jobs returned to work at Apple in late June 2009, as scheduled. He was reportedly deeply involved with Apple after his return.

The iPad

Under Jobs' leadership, Apple developed and released two generations of the iPad. The iPad transformed the previously obscure tablet computer market into a powerhouse that competitors have been unable to equal and that threatens to overturn the traditional personal computer market. With sales of over 25 million iPads in little more than a year, the iPad helped usher in the "post-PC" era of computing and has further transformed our relationship with technology.

Resignation and Death

On Aug. 23, 2011—in the midst of another health-related leave from the company—Jobs resigned as Apple's CEO, saying he "could no longer meet my duties and expectations." Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook took over for Jobs as Apple CEO. Jobs retained his position as Chair of the Apple board, his title of director, and continued to be an Apple employee.

Jobs died roughly six weeks after his resignation.

Steve Jobs’ Legacy

Perhaps no other executive in modern memory, with the possible exception of Bill Gates, has been as closely tied to his company, and its success—and the public perception of that success—as Jobs.

Some have even compared Jobs and his legacy to those of legendary business figures like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney. Others, however, have been less laudatory, placing him on a second tier of historical business figures due to his smaller accumulated wealth and charitable contributions.

Despite any analysis that places Jobs in rare historical company, his management and personal styles have also been the subject of legend and anxiety. Jobs was jokingly said to possess a “reality distortion field,” a term used by many to describe the force of his personality and presence, and his ability to convince people of his positions.

His personality also led to criticism of a management style that included strong doses of both fear and secrecy. Under Jobs, Apple was notorious for tightly protecting details of new products launches, going so far as to sue rumors websites and hold up deals with partners who leaked information. In the new millennium, Apple has become known for its desire—and general success in doing so—to control press coverage about it.

Despite these criticisms, the Apple Jobs built is strong, with over $285 billion in cash on hand, growing marketshare, and a deeply devoted customer base. In Sept. 2011, it became the most valuable company in the world. Since then, it has consistently fluctuated between the top spot and near it.

Criticism notwithstanding, Steve Jobs was a technology visionary who transformed at least three markets—computers, digital music, and phones—and changed how we work and communicate. His legacy is unparalleled in modern American business history. His life's work laid the foundation for the society of the future.