Steve Jobs: Admiring the Man Who Resurrected Apple
By Tony Kontzer UPDATE: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died at age 56 on Oct. 5, 2011.
As anyone who's followed my posts here over the past several years surely knows, I haven't exactly been what one would call an Apple enthusiast. And in keeping with my relentless criticisms of The Company That Would Not Be Criticized, you'd think I'd take the opportunity presented by the resignation of CEO Steve Jobs on Aug. 24 to rant about how this will be the moment of truth for Apple. Think again.
I'd rather view this moment as a chance to stop and admire what may well be the greatest second act in business history. Of course, Jobs should never have had an intermission in the first place. Earlier this week, InformationWeek's Fritz Nelson wrote about how he wished Jobs could have gone out, including this gem of an introduction he wanted to hear from former Apple CEO John Sculley at Jobs' theoretical going-away party: "I fired Steve. It was the biggest mistake of my life. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Steve Jobs."
To be fair, Sculley didn't act alone in firing Jobs. In fact, Apple co-founder Mike Markkula was instrumental. He felt Jobs lacked the discipline to run a big company (a thought that seems utterly ludicrous in light of Apple's past decade of unbridled success). Apple's board lost patience and was only too happy to strip the unconventional Jobs of his responsibilities.
We all know what happened next--Jobs founded NeXT Computer, and bought LucasFilm's computer graphics division, which eventually became Pixar. Then, in a twist that still seems like it could have been penned by a Hollywood hack, Apple bought NeXT for its operating system, fatefully bringing Jobs back into the mix and setting the stage for the string of market-redefining devices Apple has been churning out ever since.
By that time, it was actually Apple that was in desperate need of a second act. Rumors of its seemingly inevitable demise swirled around the company constantly prior to Jobs' return, and that's what makes his story all the more remarkable.
Jobs didn't just rescue himself from relative obscurity (an important mission for a man who had famously recruited Sculley with the line, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want me to come with me and change the world?"); he single-handedly rescued Apple, reinvigorating it with an entrepreneurial spirit that had been lost during an era of bungled leadership decisions.
The best way to sum up Jobs' resurrection is this: When he rejoined Apple, Microsoft owned the technology world, and Apple was a fringe company serving a devoted but small following of creative and educational computer users. Less than 15 years later, Apple is the undisputed king of the device world, and Microsoft is struggling to remain relevant in the post-PC era of mobile computing. Jobs, more than anyone, is responsible for that flip-flop.
Which brings us back to the notion of Jobs' resignation being a moment of truth for Apple. In some respects, it is. For the first time since 1997, before the first iPod was introduced, Apple will be led by someone other than Jobs, and that no doubt will have customers, market-watchers, employees and anyone else with more than a passing interest in the company's fate watching closely.
Make no mistake, though--Jobs may be resigning, but he isn't going anywhere, yet. From his new throne as Chairman of the Board, Jobs will no doubt continue to have his fingerprints over much of the company's culture, in particular its innovation pipeline and legendary product-release schedule.
And, naturally, his presence will loom over Apple, mostly because, well, Steve Jobs IS Apple. A little old resignation isn't going to change that.