Steve Paul Jobs (1955-2011) was one of our modern digital age’s most passionate entrepreneurs. A visionary with a passion for impeccability and relentless motivation, Steve Jobs revolutionized the way we use our computers, mobile phones, and portable music devices.
Steve Jobs always had a charismatic leadership style matched by his uncanny ability, but his early days at Apple was marked by manipulative, demanding, and overly aggressive behavior. There were some upsides to his occasionally demeaning behavior because it infused an abiding passion and a strong urge to make a good impression to the people he worked with. His personality was tightly parallel to the close-system design of Apples’ hardware and software. His vision of “making a dent in the universe,” and his intense commitment to positioning Apple at the forefront of information technology by foreseeing trends has led to many breakthrough innovations. During his career, he had a fair share of product failures as well as product successes. Most of his successes were based on the lessons he acquired from his failures and the adversities he had to overcome.
The story of his career is filled with lessons about innovation, leadership, character, and being true to one’s own values. Followers pick up the next big thing after others are already using it, but a leader has the forethought to try things no one has thought of trying before.
Background and Rise To Success
Born on February 24, 1955, his birth parents were an unwed couple in Wisconsin. He was put up for adoption and was taken in by Paul Jobs and his wife, Clara. In his high school years, he already showed an enthusiastic interest in electronics. At one point, Jobs needed some parts of an electronic counting machine for a class project. He looked up the phone number of Bill Hewlett, the cofounder of Hewlett-Packard and boldly chatted with him for about twenty minutes. He got the parts he needed as well as a summer job at HP. Jobs was in high school when he met Steve Wozniak, who would later on become his partner in Apple Computers. His first commercial venture with Wozniak actually started out as a prank. The two peddled “blue boxes” which allowed illegal phone calls to be made free of charge. They built and sold about a hundred of these machines.
After high school, Jobs attended college at Reed College in Oregon. Reed was an expensive college which his parents couldn’t afford but he enrolled anyway. Six months later, he dropped out of college and instead, he took optional classes. He later revealed that the courses just seemed too expensive and lacked the relevance to properly engage him.
Power of Vision
In 1974, Jobs returned to California and had a short stint at computer game manufacturer, Atari. He immersed himself in the counterculture—hippie lifestyle and drugs. He also found his personal solace while working in an apple orchard. After saving up enough money, he traveled around India in search of enlightenment. When he returned to California, he began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club. Most of the members were geeks interested only in microprocessors but Jobs was different. Early on, he had an eye for marketability. Around that time, Wozniak was already working as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard but he persuaded Wozniak to give up his job at Hewlett-Packard so they could start their own business.
In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computer Inc. The company aimed to develop the first readymade personal computer. To raise funds for their startup, they sold their prized possessions (Jobs’s Volkswagen and Wozniak’s Hewlett-Packard scientific calculator). With their starting capital, they established their first production line. Shortly, they built their first computer called the Apple I. It was designed in Jobs’s bedroom and its prototype was constructed in his garage. It was Jobs who led Apple to make money out of Wozniak’s engineering brilliance. While Wozniak provided technical innovation, Jobs supplied the vision and how this vision could be applied to design and usability.
Jobs secured the company’s first sale of Apple I priced at $666 in 1976. Over the next year, sales of the Apple I brought in $774,000 and soon, the two were working on the Apple II. The second incarnation of the Apple computer was a resounding success. This was not just because of its engineering; it was also due in large part to Jobs’s marketing savvy.
In the early 1980s, Jobs devoted most of his time developing the original Macintosh. The Macintosh became the first commercially successfully small computer, which featured a mouse, a set of icons, and graphical user interface. It attracted millions of users upon its release.
As CEO of Apple, Jobs oversaw the development of the tremendously successful Macintosh. Jobs’s work relationship was marred by controversy. His idealistic vision and impossibly high standards also had a downside to some of his employees due to his erratic and temperamental management. An industry-wide sales slump towards the end of 1984 caused deterioration in Jobs’s working relation with Sculley as well as layoffs and disappointing sales performance.
After a growing divergence with Sculley over management style and Apple’s future priorities, Jobs left the company in 1985. Using the money from selling his Apple stock, Jobs bought a controlling interest in Pixar, a graphics studio that had been spun off from LucasFilm.
In 1996, he formed a new company to purchase NeXT computers. Jobs ended up right where he began when Apple purchased NeXT computer for hundreds of millions of dollars. By that time, Apple was almost bankrupt. He was named CEO of Apple after a few months.
Through the years, Apple has been a consistent innovator in the digital electronics industry. Jobs’s leadership brought out the iPod music player and launched the iTunes online music store. The company is also trying to change the e-book industry through its new iPad, introduced in early 2010. Meanwhile, Pixar released hit after hit, including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars, in partnership with Disney.
In 2004, Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, leading to his death in 2011. He was 56 years old.
Today, few doubt that Apple thrived as a company because Steve Jobs was at the right place and at the right time. Although it might be true, it is uncertain that Apple would have been successful without him. His intelligence, strategic thinking, charismatic leadership, marketing acumen, and resilience in the face of adversity contributed to the incredible success of Apple Computers.