Steve Jobs, 1955–2011

The visionary who transformed modern technology

As an eighth-grader in Sunnyvale, Calif., Steve Jobs discovered he was missing a critical component for a school electronics project. So he looked up William Hewlett, the legendary co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, in the phone book and cold-called him. Hewlett spent 20 minutes talking to the young Jobs and later offered him a summer job. Jobs used that same brash confidence, as Apple’s visionary co-founder, to revolutionize modern technology and how we use it.

Born in 1955 to unwed parents in San Francisco, Jobs was adopted as an infant by Paul and Clara Jobs and raised in the Bay Area, said The New York Times. After dropping out of Reed College and working briefly at video-game manufacturer Atari, Jobs persuaded a fellow electronics hobbyist, Stephen Wozniak, that a personal-computer prototype they had been tinkering with had commercial potential. With a $250,000 loan, the two launched Apple in the Jobs family garage, in 1976. A year later, the company “created a sensation” with the Apple II, an affordable computer designed for the mass market. When Apple made the Fortune 500 in 1983, “no company had ever joined the list so quickly.” As the ideas man, Jobs defined the company’s appeal as an anti-establishment force. The company’s 1984 Macintosh ad, aired during the Super Bowl, depicted Apple as a hammer-wielding woman smashing the Big Brother–like dominance of its colorless competitors. It was widely considered one of the best ads ever.

Jobs’s meteoric career came crashing down in 1985, when he was pushed out by Apple’s board and the CEO he had helped recruit, said The Wall Street Journal. Unemployed at age 30, Jobs rebounded by founding NeXT Inc., a computer and software company. He also bought a computer-animation firm from filmmaker George Lucas for $10 million and renamed it Pixar. It went on to create a string of global movie hits, including Toy Story and Finding Nemo, before Jobs sold the studio to Disney for $7.4 billion, in 2006.

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In 1997, Apple bought the faltering NeXT and Jobs became an adviser to Apple, which was by then suffering under poor strategic leadership, said Bloomberg. In short order, Jobs became interim CEO, cleaning out the executive suite and refocusing the company’s product line. In 1998, he introduced the iMac, a one-piece personal computer with a colorful translucent case that looked like nothing else on the market. It became Apple’s best-selling desktop ever, the first blockbuster in a decade-long string of revolutionary products, including the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, that turned Apple into the world’s most valuable technology company.

Fanatical about his products’ design and marketing, Jobs extended his branding genius to himself, said the Los Angeles Times. He successfully presented himself as a “convention-bucking visionary who was willing to wade into new industries to do battle with movie studios, record labels, and cell-phone giants.” He famously shunned focus groups because he believed “it’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” campaign, the first after Jobs retook the company reins, featured a “parade of iconic pioneers and world-shaping figures from Einstein to Gandhi,” but the “implicit hero was Jobs himself.” A Buddhist and vegetarian, he rarely appeared in public in anything other than his minimalist outfit of jeans, sneakers, and a black turtleneck. He once said that taking LSD during the 1970s was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life.

Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003 and had a liver transplant six years later, said The Washington Post. He rarely spoke of his illness but addressed it directly in a now-famous Stanford commencement speech in 2005. “No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent.”

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