Fortune magazine just published an article in which it names Steve Jobs, Apple CEO and co-founder, CEO of the decade. How does one merit such a grandiose title? Well, by doing the seemingly impossible, that’s how. Fortune recounts the Coles Notes version of Jobs’ life and times, and it sounds too fantastic to be true. Yet it is true, and it is at least partly responsible for the rabid devotion Apple commands.
The magazine describes the ousting of Steve in the 1980’s, his return in the 90’s, and the decade-long story that follows, which includes harrowing health problems, a securities-law scandal, and a product line badly in need of innovation and originality.
Despite having taken over the company when it was worth only $5 billion, and seemingly on the verge of failure and bankruptcy, Steve Jobs ushered in devices like the iPod which helped change the company’s fortunes dramatically (they now control 73 percent of the U.S. MP3 player market), eventually leading to the $170 billion net company worth that exists today. In August of this year, Apple reported that it had $31.1 billion in cash on hand, an amount that would allow it to buy its pre-Jobs self six times over.
Of course, Steve Jobs was also behind the introduction of the iPhone, a device which has arguably changed the landscape of cellular communication and mobile computing more than any other (subscription required). Originally introduced in 2007, in the two years since, the iPhone has become the force to reckon with in the smartphone industry. It led to fundamental changes in the way cellular service providers do business, and wrested much of the control of media and bundled software away from them.
Still, it hasn’t all been roses. Not one, but two major health issues arose for Jobs during the past decade. First, in 2004, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He underwent surgery to treat the disease, and the outcome was apparently a good one, since no follow-up chemo or radiology treatment was required. Then, last year, Jobs took a six-month leave of absence during which he underwent a liver transplant. He returned to work in June 2009.
There was also the securities scandal, in which Jobs was apparently granted stock options at a backdated price, resulting in $20 million of undeclared taxable income. An internal Apple investigation later cleared Steve Jobs of any knowledge of the backdating, but the issue remains subject to active criminal and civil legal investigation.
But the highlights far outweigh the few dark spots on this Apple. Mac market share continues to grow, and the brand remains incredibly popular among students and young people, a promising sign for the future. Jobs is also the largest shareholder at Disney, thanks to his influence and guidance in Pixar’s celebrated history. And, just as no one has yet to replicate the iPod’s success in the MP3 player market, no true iPhone-killer has yet to surface, despite countless efforts by other phone manufacturers.
Perhaps what makes Steve Jobs such a successful CEO is that people know his name. Not just avid Fortune readers and business-types, but most people. So much so that The Simpsons can parody him without fear of the joke being lost on the masses. Make no mistake, Jobs himself is a willing and active part of Apple’s promotional arsenal, as evidenced by his legendary theatricality when introducing new products and software at various special events.
It’s hard to predict what the future holds for such a personality, but recent evidence suggests that Jobs will next try to do for TV what he’s already done for music and cell phones. That is, to quickly and without much warning become the dominant force in an industry.