Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has died aged only 56. MT looks back on the life of someone who truly deserved to be called a genius.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 21 Oct 2011
Corporate life can be largely divided into two groups of people – those who make the rules, and those who abide by them. The co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, who has died today after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer at the untimely age of 56, was however something of a conundrum where rules are concerned, both a breaker and a maker as it suited him.

He was as adept at ignoring pointless ‘other people’s rules’ as he was at insisting that those in Apple’s employ should adhere to his own, sometimes apparently equally capricious, diktats. A kind of benign dictatorship perfectly embodied by the Apple ecosystem which is his immediate legacy. Users of iBooks, iPods, iPhones get a large, sunny and well equipped playground to frolic in, but the fences around it are high and vigilantly patrolled.

He also earned a reputation as the ultimate control freak, maintaining an almost superhuman grip on every aspect of the goings on at Apple, from top level corporate strategy right down to deciding where to put the headphone socket on an iPad. Consequently the world is littered with people who used to work for Jobs, but fell foul of what become known in the firm as ‘Steve’s hero to shithead rollercoaster.’

None of which matters very much when set against his astonishing record of achievement. In an industry where progress is so rapid that even the smartest brains around have to struggle to stay on the pace for more than few years, Jobs’ record of peering successfully into the future is second to none. He can claim at least joint authorship of four of the most influential consumer technologies of the past four decades – the personal computer, the graphical user interface, digital music and the smartphone revolution. The difference between Jobs and most control freak bosses, who simply think they are right, is that Jobs actually was right, nearly all the time.

No surprises then that Apple’s fortunes have waxed and waned over the years in more or less direct correlation to Jobs’ involvement with the firm. The adopted son of Paul and Clara Jobs, Steve was an ex-hippy who founded Apple in 1976 with Steve Wozniak. In 1985 he was famously squeezed out by John Scully, the former Pepsi boss whom Jobs himself had hired (wooing him with the line ‘Do you really want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water?’), for not being a team player. It turned out that the last thing Apple needed was a team player – by 1997 Jobs was back, riding to the firm’s rescue and masterminding an extraordinary second coming which saw the share price rise 36 fold over the next 10 years.

It was a product-based comeback – Jobs grasped the world of high-tech electronics and transformed its devices from grey plastic boxes into sleek, must-have consumer goods, inventing geek chic in the process. He had an instinctive appreciation not only of where technology was going but of what makes people want to buy it. ‘Steve understands desire’ as GUI pioneer Alan Kay once put it. Not something you can imagine being said of Bill Gates.

He leaves a firm in apparently robust good health, riding high on the success of the iPad and iPhone, and an army of fanatical customers which any business would kill for. But there is one big cloud on the horizon for new CEO Tim Cook – how to replace the irreplaceable Steve Jobs?

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