Steve Jobs, 1955-2011: Mourning Technology's Great Reinventor
Jobs sits for a portrait outside his home in Palo Alto, Calif. on December 7, 2004.
Steve Jobs, whose death was announced on
Wednesday night, wasn't a computer scientist. He had no training as a
hardware engineer or an industrial designer. The businesses that Apple
entered under his leadership — from personal computers to MP3 players to
smartphones — all existed before the company got there.
But with astonishing regularity, Jobs did something that few people
accomplish even once: he reinvented entire industries. He did it with
ones that were new, like PCs, and he did it with ones that were old,
such as music. And his pace only accelerated over the years.
He was the most celebrated, successful business executive of his
generation, yet he flouted many basic tenets of business wisdom. (Like
his hero and soulmate, Polaroid founder Edwin Land, he refused to
conduct focus groups and other research that might tell him want his
customers wanted.) In his many public appearances as the head of a large
public corporation, he rarely sounded like one. He introduced the first
Macintosh by quoting Bob Dylan, and took to saying that Apple sat "at
the intersection of the liberal arts and technology."
Jobs' confidence in the wisdom of his own instincts came to be
immense, as did the hype he created at Apple product launches. That
might have been unbearable if it weren't for the fact that his intuition
was nearly flawless and the products often lived up to his lofty
claims. St. Louis Cardinals pitching great Dizzy Dean could have been
talking about Jobs rather than himself when he said "It ain't bragging
if you can back it up."
Jobs' eventual triumph was so absolute — in 2011, Apple's market
capitalization passed that of Exxon Mobil, making it the planet's most
valuable company — that it's easy to forget how checkered his reputation
once was. Over the first quarter-century of his career, he was
associated with as many failed products as hits. Having been forced out
of Apple in 1985, he was associated with failure, period. Even some of
his admirers thought of him as the dreamer who'd lost the war for PC
dominance with Microsoft's indomitable Bill Gates.
Until the iPod era, it seemed entirely possible that Jobs' most
lasting legacy might be the blockbuster animated features produced by
Pixar, the company which he founded after acquiring George Lucas's
computer-graphics lab in 1986. Instead, Pixar turned out to be, in Jobs'
famous phrase, just one more thing.
Born in 1955 in San Francisco to an unmarried graduate student and
adopted at birth by Paul and Clara Jobs, Steven Paul Jobs grew up in
Silicon Valley just as it was becoming Silicon Valley. It proved to be a
lucky break for everyone concerned.
He was only 21 when he started Apple — officially formed on April
Fool's Day 1976 — with his buddy Steve "Woz" Wozniak, a self-taught
engineer of rare talents. (A third founder, Ron Wayne, chickened out
after less than two weeks.)
But Jobs had already done a lot of living, all of which influenced
the company he built. He'd spent one unhappy semester at Portland's Reed
College and 18 happy months of "dropping in" on Reed classes as he saw
fit. He'd found brief employment in low-level jobs at Silicon Valley
icons HP and Atari. He'd taken a spiritual journey to India, and dabbled
with both psychedelic drugs and primal scream therapy.