CUPERTINO — Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder who reshaped the world’s digital landscape, died Wednesday, ending a storied career that saw him ousted from the company he co-founded only to return from exile to lead Apple to greater glory with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. He was 56.
Mr. Jobs, who stepped down as CEO this year because of health problems, had suffered for years from pancreatic cancer and related illnesses and in 2009 underwent a liver transplant. His death was announced by Apple.
“Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve,” the board of directors said in a statement.
Mr. Jobs was considered by many to be the greatest corporate leader of the last half-century, and indeed his numerous successes rank him alongside Ford, Disney and Edison as a giant of American business.
He was a taskmaster who demanded the most from his employees – often in expletive-laden bursts – and wasn’t afraid to scrap products that didn’t meet his expectations. But consumers benefited from his perfectionism, which resulted in beautiful and intuitive products.
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Under Mr. Jobs, Apple devices helped to change the way consumers buy music, read books and enjoy movies. Mr. Jobs himself dragged those industries, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the digital future. The products created during his tenure at Apple gave rise to a legion of fans who proselytize on the company’s behalf, demonstrating loyalty rarely granted to a maker of electronic gadgets.
Child of the valley
Steven Paul Jobs was literally a child of Silicon Valley. Born out of wedlock in San Francisco, his birth mother, Joanne Simpson, was a graduate student he tracked down as an adult with the aid of a private detective. Mr. Jobs never publicly discussed his biological father, Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, a native of Syria. Simpson put the baby up for adoption, with the understanding that he be placed with a well-educated family. Simpson initially balked when his adoptive family turned out to be high-school dropout Paul Jobs and his wife, Clara, who never finished college .
Mr. Jobs said his birth mother signed the papers only when his adoptive parents promised to send him to college. But he considered it lucky that his adoptive father, a machinist, moved the family to Mountain View when Mr. Jobs was a boy and gave him a workbench in their garage.
“My father, Paul, was a pretty remarkable man,” Mr. Jobs said in a 1995 oral history for the Smithsonian Institution. He “was kind of a genius with his hands (who) spent a lot of time with me … teaching me how to build things, how to take things apart, put things back together.”
When he was 12, Mr. Jobs wrote to William Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co., seeking parts for a school project. The precocious youth ended up getting a summer job that would fuel his love of electronics as well as introduce him to future Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, several years his senior, who worked for HP.
Mr. Jobs’ fascination with the electronics industry stood in contrast to his disdain for an educational system that, as he told the Smithsonian, “came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.” Nevertheless, when he graduated from Homestead High School in Cupertino in 1972, his parents, true to their word, sent him to the school of his choice, Reed College, an expensive liberal arts institute in Oregon.
As Mr. Jobs told Stanford University students in a now-famous 2005 commencement speech, he dropped out after one semester. “All of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition,” he said. “I couldn’t see the value in it.”
The first return
Mr. Jobs followed his gut back to Silicon Valley, which was just gaining a reputation as an incubator for new technology companies. Mr. Jobs helped that process along when he joined the Homebrew Computer Club. This was a group of electronics buffs who realized that a circuit of new-fangled silicon chips, put to some useful purpose by clever software, could turn the computer – then a room-size monstrosity – into something as small and personal as a television set.
Through the Homebrew Club, Mr. Jobs rekindled his friendship with Wozniak, who was a whiz at electronics design. When Mr. Jobs, ever the salesman, landed a contract to create a new video game, he enlisted Woz, as he was called, in the effort – and also revealed something of his own character.
As the story is handed down, video game entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell had hired Mr. Jobs to create a prototype circuit card for an arcade game called Breakout. Mr. Jobs negotiated a $750 fee – increasable by a bonus of $100 for every expensive chip that could be eliminated. Mr. Jobs then recruited Woz to design the circuity, promising to split the fee – without telling his collaborator about the efficiency bonus that ended up bringing his income closer to $5,000.
“He got paid one amount and told me he got paid another,” Wozniak wrote in “iWoz,” his autobiography. “He wasn’t honest with me and I was hurt. But I didn’t make a big deal about it or anything.”
To the contrary, Mr. Jobs and Wozniak continued working together to design a personal computer that would work right out of the box, instead of a do-it-yourself kit that required assembly. Legend has it that Mr. Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus and Wozniak his Hewlett-Packard scientific calculator to raise the $1,300 they used to set up a production line in Mr. Jobs’ garage. In 1976, when they introduced the $666 Apple I, the Byte Shop in Mountain View ordered 50.
“On that basis the Apple Corporation was founded,” according to the Apple Museum website. “The name is allegedly based on Jobs’ favorite fruit and the logo chosen to play on both the company name and the word byte.”
In 1977, Mr. Jobs and Wozniak introduced the Apple II, which remained the company’s mainstay product into the early 1980s. But the restless Mr. Jobs soon lost interest in the nerdy Apple II and instead fell under the spell of an “insanely great” idea that he would pursue to both his glory and ruin – the Macintosh.
Catching the mouse
That infatuation began in 1979 when Mr. Jobs visited the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. There, for the first time, he saw a computer controlled by a mouse that allowed an operator to point and click on a command instead of having to type in arcane instructions.
Mr. Jobs used this graphical user interface as the cornerstone of the revered Mac. The period from 1980 through 1985, when he led the frenzied effort to develop and introduce the Mac, would become the crucible of his career. He developed a knack for cajoling brilliant engineers into meeting crazy deadlines, displayed a disruptive tendency toward micromanagement, and perfected the sales pitch that seemed convincing perhaps because he drew inspiration from his own inexhaustible self-confidence.
The episode that best encapsulates Mr. Jobs’ genius during that era is the television commercial he commissioned to introduce the Macintosh in January 1984. It was a takeoff on George Orwell’s “1984,” and depicted the Mac as the revolutionary alternative to “Big Brother” computing – a veiled reference to IBM, which had begun making personal computers after having dominated the corporate mainframe market. The 30-second spot aired nationally just once – during Super Bowl XVIII. But the $900,000 production crystallized the ethos of nonconformity that has sustained the tiny but vociferous Mac community ever since.
Clash of the titans
The creation of the Mac also propelled Mr. Jobs into two clashes that helped define his career, intensifying the rivalry with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and setting the stage for his ouster by John Sculley, the former PepsiCo executive chosen to bring adult supervision to Apple. Mr. Jobs lured Sculley to Apple with the taunt: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”
Mr. Jobs and Gates had been rivals from the beginning of the personal computer industry. As former Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld once wrote: “Each one thought he was smarter than the other one, but Steve generally treated Bill as someone who was slightly inferior, especially in matters of taste and style. Bill looked down on Steve because he couldn’t actually program.”
Their antipathy deepened after Mr. Jobs tried to persuade Gates to license the Mac’s point-and-click approach – which Gates famously refused to do, instead creating Windows and opening the schism that still divides Mac and PC partisans.
The struggle between Mr. Jobs and Sculley wounded Mr. Jobs and Apple, and was rooted in Mr. Jobs’ inability to admit shortcomings. As Hertzfeld, one of the chief Mac designers, has written, Mr. Jobs resisted making the Mac more compatible with the increasingly popular IBM PC, and seemed oblivious to the slowing of Mac sales after the initial euphoria.
“Steve Jobs had never suffered fools gladly and as the pressure mounted he became even more difficult to work with,” Hertzfeld wrote at Folklore.org. “Employees from every part of the company began to approach John (Sculley) with complaints about Steve’s behavior, including some of Steve’s direct reports in the Macintosh division.”
The conflict came to a head in May 1985, when Sculley stripped Mr. Jobs of any operational role inside the company, prompting Mr. Jobs to resign as figurehead chairman that September.
The NeXT story
Mr. Jobs would tell Stanford students in a 2005 commencement address that, “I didn’t see it then, but getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” because it forced him to learn new skills. During the dozen years after his ouster, Mr. Jobs founded the famously unprofitable NeXT Computer while reigning over the fabulously profitable Pixar Animation Studios. For him, NeXT was a lesson in the value of perseverance, while Pixar taught him the value of hands-off management and delegation.
NeXT was an “I-told-you-so” computer, and whether measured by its aesthetic allure or its technological sophistication, it left no doubt about Mr. Jobs’ prowess at product design. The name was a reference to his vision that computers, having been made into personal tools, could grow more powerful if they learned to work in packs. The NeXT computer was built around the concept of linking computers in networks, a notion that was developed at Xerox PARC, where Mr. Jobs first saw the mouse.
As a technological achievement the NeXT computer was a tour de force. Physicist Tim Berners-Lee, who implemented the first version of the World Wide Web on a NeXT box in 1990, says it allowed him to do “in a couple of months what would take more like a year” on another computer.
But as a business proposition , NeXT was a costly dud, starting with the initial $50,000 price. Mr. Jobs raised about $250 million in eight years before being forced in 1993 to quit manufacturing NeXT computers, although he kept the company alive by selling its software.
Pictures and pixels
In contrast to his struggles with NeXT, Mr. Jobs enjoyed a comparatively effortless triumph when he spent $10 million in 1986 to buy filmmaker George Lucas’ computer animation division. The new venture was renamed Pixar – a play on pictures and pixels – and had at its technical core two creative geniuses, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter. Whether because of his preoccupation with NeXT or deliberate wisdom, Mr. Jobs left Catmull and Lasseter more or less alone to create such animated hits as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.”
When the Walt Disney Co. acquired Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion, Mr. Jobs took little credit for its success. In a conference call discussing the deal with analysts and reporters, Mr. Jobs said: “Ed (Catmull) shared with me a dream he’d had since graduate school to make the world’s first computer-animated film. It was Ed’s dream. And I bought into it both spiritually and financially, and John Lasseter bought into it, too. But it was Ed’s dream from the beginning.”
The second return
Meanwhile, Mr. Jobs refused to admit defeat with NeXT and, by focusing on its innovative software, paved the way for his return to Apple.
By 1996, Apple was floundering in Mr. Jobs’ absence. Alan Deutschman, author of “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs,” wrote that “Apple had long been like a civil service bureaucracy … filled with people who had virtually ignored and ultimately outlasted three CEOs.”
Shortly before Christmas 1996, then-Apple chief executive Gil Amelio announced that he was buying NeXT for $400 million and would use its software as the foundation for a new Macintosh operating system. Mr. Jobs initially returned to Apple as an unofficial adviser, but soon supplanted Amelio and became CEO in September 1997 – almost a dozen years to the day after his ouster.
He quickly consolidated control and changed Apple’s direction, killing off his predecessors’ program of licensing the Macintosh software to several companies that made Mac clones. Speaking at a conference in San Francisco in the fall of 1997, Mr. Jobs said he told Mac clone makers “that we were going to go broke and that if we went down the (toilet), then the whole Macintosh ecosystem would go down” the toilet.
Peace with Gates
Mr. Jobs also made peace with Gates and accepted a $150 million investment from Microsoft, quieting catcalls at the 1997 Macworld Expo in Boston by saying, “We have got to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.” On the technical front, he drove efforts to infuse the NeXT software into the Mac operating system, improved manufacturing and brought a new aesthetic sensibility to the product line.
“The best companies pay attention to aesthetics,” Mr. Jobs once told Inc. Magazine. “Beyond the functional benefits, the aesthetic communicates something about how they think about themselves, their sense of discipline in engineering, how they run their company.”
As he had with the original Mac, Mr. Jobs redefined Apple as the rebel brand with the “Think Different” advertising campaign. Likening Apple to “the rebels, the troublemakers … the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,” the ad used images such as scientist Albert Einstein, musician Bob Dylan and civil rights martyr Martin Luther King Jr.
“You can tell a lot about a person by who his or her heroes are,” Mr. Jobs told BusinessWeek in 2004, adding: “Companies sometimes forget who they are.”
Triumph of the i’s
Through these and other efforts, Mr. Jobs revived the Mac and Apple’s fortunes, but the crowning achievements of his encore performance as CEO were the introductions of the iPod music player in 2001, the Web-enabled iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. The products exemplified the elegance, technological daring and marketing genius that typified his creations, and were strategically brilliant to boot, thrusting Apple into new markets where it enjoyed hardware sales and recurring revenue – music, movies and software applications.
But the strength of character that enabled Mr. Jobs to revive Apple also carried elements of his own excess. Deutschman, author of “Second Coming,” suggests that Mr. Jobs made himself both feared and omnipresent to shock the company back to health. “It was as though everyone in the company reported to Steve himself,” he wrote. “People worried about getting trapped with him in an elevator for a few seconds, afraid they might not have a job when the doors opened.”
Although a publicity hound when it suited his purpose, Mr. Jobs zealously avoided unwanted scrutiny, which led to controversy over disclosures about his health in recent years. Mr. Jobs apparently learned of his pancreatic cancer in October 2003, and initially sought to combat it with a special diet before disclosing the illness in an e-mail to employees in 2004, revealing that he had undergone surgery to remove tumorous growths.
In the summer of 2008, after Mr. Jobs appeared unusually thin in public appearances, questions resurfaced about his health and the effect his illness or sudden departure might have on Apple. With no information coming from Apple, the media at times published incorrect information about Mr. Jobs’ health. An obituary was prematurely and inadvertently released by one news service, and a CNN-sponsored site posted an erroneous report that Jobs had suffered a heart attack.
New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera captured Mr. Jobs’ sentiment toward all of this in a July 2008 item titled, “Apple’s Culture of Secrecy.” It included this comment from Mr. Jobs, who had called Nocera to offer an off-the-record report on his health: “You think I’m an arrogant (expletive) who thinks he’s above the law, and I think you’re a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong,” Mr. Jobs reportedly said.
In the face of relentless curiosity, Mr. Jobs released two letters about his health in January 2008. The first blamed his gauntness on a “hormonal imbalance” with a “relatively simple” treatment. But just nine days later, Mr. Jobs said he would take “a medical leave of absence until June” to deal with “health-related issues (that) are more complex than I originally thought.” He returned to the company later that year after having a liver transplant.
In January of this year, Mr. Jobs announced he was taking a second medical leave.
Then on Aug. 24, in a surprise announcement that initially sent Apple stock tumbling, Mr. Jobs submitted his resignation letter. Days earlier, Simon & Schuster, publisher of Mr. Jobs’ official biography, said it was moving up the publishing date to November from March.
“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” Mr. Jobs wrote to the board of directors. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”
Now, this business icon who always marched to his own beat has left behind his critics, his many accomplishments and, most important to him, the family that he so carefully shielded from the public eye.
In the 2005 Stanford speech, in which Jobs frankly confronted his own mortality, this man of few apologies evidenced no regrets.
“Death is very likely the single best invention of life,” he said. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. … Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
Jobs is survived by his wife, Laurene Powell, whom he married in 1991, and their three children. He also leaves behind a daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, from a previous relationship.
The family of Apple Inc. co-founder and Chairman Steve Jobs issued this statement Wednesday in response to his death:
“Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family.
“In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family. We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve’s illness; a website will be provided for those who wish to offer tributes and memories.
“We are grateful for the support and kindness of those who share our feelings for Steve. We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief.”