Computer designer and corporate executive Steven Jobs (born 1955) is cofounder of Apple Computers. With his vision of affordable personal computers, he launched one of the largest industries of the past decades while still in his early twenties and remains one of the most inventive and energetic minds in American technology.
Born in 1955, Steven Jobs was adopted shortly thereafter by a California couple, Paul and Clara Jobs. Jobs showed an early interest in electronics and gadgetry. As a high school student, he boldly asked William Hewlett, co-founder and president of the Hewlett-Packard computer firm, for some parts he needed to complete a class project. Hewlett was impressed enough to give Jobs the parts and offer him a summer internship at Hewlett-Packard.
After graduating from high school in 1972, Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, for two years before dropping out, partly to ease his family's financial burden and partly to find himself. He hoped to visit India and study eastern spiritualism, but lacking necessary funds, went to work part-time for Atari Computers. He was able to save enough money to finance a trip to India in the summer of 1974. While there, he practiced meditation, studied eastern culture and religion, and even shaved his head. But by the fall, he became ill with dysentery and was forced to return to the United States.
For a short time, Jobs lived in a California commune but soon became disenchanted with the lifestyle. In 1975, he began associating with a group of computer aficionados known as the Homebrew Computer Club. One member, a technical whiz named Steve Wosniak, whom Jobs had first met at Hewlett-Packard, was trying to build a small computer. Jobs became fascinated with the marketing potential of such a computer, and in 1976 he and Wosniak formed their own company. The team was content to sell circuit boards designed by Wosniak until the computer prototype was complete. That same year, Wosniak succeeded in designing a small computer, and using Jobs's parents' garage, the two men worked to refine and market the product.
Jobs saw a huge gap in the existing computer market, as no product was targeted for home use. Wosniak improved his initial computer while Jobs lined up investors and bank financing. Marketing manager A. C. Markkula eventually invested $250,000 and became an equal partner in the Apple Computer Company. With new capital, Jobs and Wosniak refined the prototype. The redesigned computer— christened the "Apple II"—hit the market in 1977, with impressive first year sales of $2.7 million. In one of the most phenomenal cases of corporate growth in U.S. history, the company's sales grew to $200 million within three years. Jobs and Wosniak had opened an entirely new market, that of personal computers, bringing the computational speed of business systems into people's homes and beginning a new era in information processing.
By 1980, the personal computer era was well underway. Apple was forced to continually improve its products to remain ahead in a growing marketplace. Competitors such as Radio Shack, Commodore, and IBM were gaining sales from Apple's market. In 1980, Apple introduced the Apple III computer, and improved version of the Apple II, but the new model suffered technical and marketing problems. It was withdrawn from the market, but was later reworked and reintroduced.
Jobs continued to be the marketing force behind Apple. He admitted that mistakes were made with the Apple III, but looked for innovative ways to meet new and existing consumer needs. Early in 1983, Jobs unveiled Lisa, another new computer, aimed this time at business executives. Lisa was designed for people possessing minimal computer experience. The model did not sell well, however, because of its high price and increased competition from IBM personal computers. By 1983, it was estimated that Apple lost half of its market share to IBM.
Faced with a declining market share, Apple introduced the Macintosh in 1984. In designing the model, Jobs apparently paid more attention to appearances than function. Although the Macintosh had "user-friendly" software and on-screen displays, Jobs failed to equip it with either a letter-quality printer or a hard disk drive. Lacking these features, the Macintosh did not sell well to businesses. The failure of the Macintosh signalled the beginning of Jobs's downfall at Apple Computer Company. In 1985, following a highly publicized showdown at Apple, Jobs resigned from the company he had founded, though he retained his title as chairman of its board of directors.
It was not long before Steve Jobs resurfaced, however. Soon after leaving Apple, he hired some of his former employees to begin a new computer company. The company was called NeXT, and Jobs invested $7 million of his own money to get it started. For three years, Jobs and his employees worked to produce the first NeXT computer, which was aimed at the educational market. Late in 1988, the NeXT computer was introduced at a large gala event in San Francisco. Initial reactions were generally good; the product was user-friendly, with very fast processing speed, excellent graphics displays, and an outstanding sound system. Other innovations included an optical disk drive instead of floppy disks, and a special sound chip to provide the fidelity of a compact disc. Judging from initial reactions, many critics were convinced that Steve Jobs had brought another revolutionary product to American consumers.
Despite the warm reception, however, the NeXT machine never caught on. It was too costly, had a black-and-white screen, and couldn't be linked to other computers or run common software, Joseph Nocera wrote in a biting profile of Jobs in Gentleman's Quarterly. Nocera argued that Jobs's charisma and persuasive charm duped his employees, the press, and Jobs himself into believing he could not fail—despite strong evidence to the contrary. "Jobs started NeXT with an unshakable faith in his own press clips, in which his mistakes were always overlooked while his supposed triumphs were always wildly oversold," Nocera wrote.
Nocera said he also fell victim to the Jobs myth when he visited NeXT in 1986. He witnessed Jobs brutalize employees who worshipped him, obsess over mindless details, and indulge his expensive tastes—yet Nocera reported none of the contradictions. "The point is," he wrote in 1993, "my willingness to be seduced by Steve Jobs caused me to miss what I was seeing with my own eyes. Even in 1986, the evidence strongly suggested that lightning was not going to strike twice. The incongruities were too severe, the dreams too farfetched…. You'd ask the people at NeXT how, exactly, their computer was going to change the world and they would lapse into gobbledygook; they really had no idea what they were trying to accomplish with this new machine."
NeXT was not, however, the end of Steve Jobs. Lightning, indeed, struck a second time. In 1986, Jobs paid filmmaker George Lucas $10 million for a small firm called Pixar that specialized in computer animation. "Over the next six years Jobs poured another $40 million of his own money into the company … as it set out to make the first-ever computer-animated feature film," Time magazine reported in February 1996. That film was Toy Story, a huge box office hit. Pixar's initial public stock offering was an enormous success. The share price climbed dramatically, and Jobs's 80 percent stake in Pixar suddenly was worth $1 billion.
"Jobs makes the point that Pixar, like other (initial public offering) overnight successes, was really anything but an overnight success," said the Time article. "-The things I've done in my life have required a lot of years of work before they took off,' he says. He and Wosniak started work on Apple in 1975. -So it was really six years of work before we went public. And Pixar has been 10 years…. The thing that drives me and my colleagues … is that you see something very compelling to you, and you don't quite know how to get it, but you know, sometimes intuitively, it's within your grasp. And it's worth putting in years of your life to make it come into existence."'
In December of 1996, Apple announced that it was purchasing Next Software for over $400 million. Jobs returned to Apple as a part-time consultant to CEO Gilbert Amelio. The following year, in August, Apple entered into a partnership with archrival Microsoft, in which the two companies, according to the New York Times, "agreed to cooperate on several sales and technology fronts." The alliance was an unprecedented one for the industry, but analysts predicted that Microsoft's support will ultimately save Apple, a company that had in the late 1990s come to serve a much more niche market than Microsoft. "We want to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose," Jobs said. In September of 1997, Jobs was named interim CEO of Apple while a replacement for the ousted Amelio was sought.
Butcher, Lee, Accidental Millionaire: The Rise and Fall of Steven Jobs at Apple Computer, Paragon House, 1987.
Young, Jeffrey S., Steve Jobs: The Journey Is the Reward, Scott, Foresman, 1988.
Esquire, December, 1986, pp. 84-101.
Fortune, February 20, 1984, pp. 86-88.
Gentleman's Quarterly, October 1993, pp. 105-111.
Newsweek, January 30, 1984, pp. 54-57; September 30, 1985, pp. 46-50; October 24, 1988, pp. 46-51.
Rolling Stone, April 4, 1996, pp. 51 °.
Time, February 15, 1982, pp. 40-41; January 3, 1983, pp. 25-27; January 30, 1984, pp. 68-69; February 19, 1996, pp. 43-47.
Business Week March 17, 1997, pp. 116. □
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