Steve Jobs was a computer designer, executive and innovator, as well as an all-around role model for many people in their professional and personal lives. As the co-founder of Apple Computers and the former chairman of Pixar Animation Studios, he revolutionized the computer and animation industries, amassing a fortune worth $10.2 billion at the time of his death. Jobs died at age 56 on Oct. 5, 2011, in Palo Alto, California, after battling pancreatic cancer for eight years.
Born in San Francisco, Jobs was adopted by an encouraging and loving family. He developed an interest in computers and engineering at a young age, inspired by his father’s machinist job and love for electronics. Growing up south of Palo Alto, Jobs was bright beyond comparison – his teachers wanted him to skip several grades and enter high school early, although his parents declined. When he did go to high school, Jobs met his future business partner, Steve Wozniak, with whom he bonded over their shared love for electronics and computer chips.
After dropping out of college in his first semester, Jobs explored his spiritual side while traveling in India. It was through this spiritual enlightenment that Jobs’ work ethic and simplistic view toward life were developed. “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity,” he once said. “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Jobs began to move mountains at age 21 when he and Wozniak started Apple Computers in the Jobs family garage. To fund their venture, Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus and Wozniak sold his scientific calculator. This ended up being a good investment. Prior to Apple’s rise, computers were physically massive, expensive and not accessible by the everyday person. With Jobs heading up marketing and Wozniak in charge of technical development, Apple sold consumer-friendly machines that were smaller and cheaper, at only $666.66 each. The Apple II was more successful than the first model, and sales increased by 700%. On its first day of being a publicly traded company in 1980, Apple Computer had an estimated market value of $1.2 billion.
The original Apple-1 computers were sold at the $666.66 price point for two reasons: because Jobs and Wozniak wanted to sell the computer at a markup of one-third over the $500 wholesale price, and because Wozniak liked repeating digits.
But this success was short-lived, even with the praise for Jobs’ latest design, the Macintosh. IBM was Apple’s stiffest competition, and it began to surpass Apple’s sales. After a falling out with Apple’s CEO, John Sculley, Jobs resigned in 1985 to follow his own interests. He started a new software and hardware company, NeXT Inc., and he invested in a small animation company, Pixar Animation Studios.
Pixar became successful thanks to Jobs’ tenacity and evolving management style. Toy Story, Pixar’s first major success, took four years to make while the then-unknown animation company struggled. Jobs pushed its progress along by encouraging and prodding his team in critical and often abrasive ways. While some found his management style caustic, he also earned loyalty from many team members. “You need a lot more than vision – you need a stubbornness, tenacity, belief and patience to stay the course,” Edwin Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, told the New York Times. “In Steve’s case, he pushes right to the edge, to try to make the next big step forward.”
While Pixar succeeded, NeXT, trying to sell its own operating system to American consumers, floundered. Apple bought the company in 1997, and Jobs returned to Apple as CEO. Working for an annual salary of $1 a year (in addition to the millions of Apple shares he owned), Jobs revitalized Apple, and under his leadership, the company developed numerous innovative devices – namely, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and iTunes. Apple revolutionized mobile communications, music and even how numerous industries, including retail and healthcare, carried out their everyday business operations. He showed a unique intuition when developing these products. When asked what consumer and market research went into the iPad, Jobs reportedly replied, “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want,” according to his New York Times obituary.
Jobs used his personal experiences, such as growing up in the San Francisco area in the ’60s and his world travel, to shape the way he designed the products that made Apple synonymous with success. He criticized the sheltered lives that characterized many in the computer industry. “[They] haven’t had very diverse experiences,” he told Wired. “So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
Jobs considered every aspect of the consumer’s product experience, right down to the packaging. He created a small team of package designers dedicated to fine-tuning the unboxing experience.
In 2004, Apple announced Jobs had a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer. This brush with death helped Jobs focus his energy on developing the Apple products that rose to such popularity in the 2000s.
“Almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important,” he said in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford.
Though he was ill, it was during this time Apple launched some of its biggest (and most successful) creations. iTunes became the second-biggest music retailer in America, the MacBook Air revolutionized laptop computing, and the iPod and iPhone broke sales records while changing the way users consumed content and communicated with each other.
Jobs once said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” After starting the personal computer revolution, launching the smartphone craze, changing the age of computer animation, and making technology popular and accessible, he made more than a ding.
Jobs emphasized the importance of teamwork to his employees. Though he made the final decision on product designs, he knew the right people are a company’s greatest asset. “That’s how I see business,” he said in a 2003 60 Minutes interview. “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” [Read our tips on improving the hiring process.]
At the same time, Jobs knew he had to be the best leader possible to his teams. According to Jobs’ work mantra and ethic, innovation is what distinguishes a leader from a follower. Thanks to Jobs’ expectation of high quality, almost every product he turned out was a huge success among consumers and businesses.
Steve Jobs is still recognized today for making positive impacts in a number of areas:
Jobs’ innovation led to the creation of products that save trees and help the environment. In situations where someone would typically use paper, such as in a presentation or a script reading, technology on devices like the iPad replaced it. The iPhone and iPad – groundbreaking products that ushered in a new generation of smart mobile technologies – ensure “paperless” is more and more the status quo. [Learn how to create a paperless office for your business.]
While the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, it catapulted the mobile revolution forward and gave more freedom to individuals in their professional and personal lives. With an iPhone, professionals could answer calls, respond to emails, join webinars and more from their cellular device – in addition to having immediate access to music, movies and messages that fulfill their personal likes, needs and passions. [These are the tech trends we’re seeing in 2023.]
Today’s world is more instantaneous than ever before, thanks to advancements by Jobs. His innovations ensure productivity thrives, like being able to make an appointment or reservation from your mobile phone and use your iPad as a point-of-sale (POS) system. With Jobs’ technology, businesses and customers have much smoother and quicker interactions. [Don’t miss our picks for the best POS systems.]
Jobs’ approach to innovation and business offers entrepreneurs industry-agnostic inspiration more than a decade after his death. Many of his quotes remain inspiring today:
Elaine J. Hom, Brittney Morgan and Jeanette Mulvey contributed to the writing and research in this article.