The news was both expected and shocking. Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple and Pixar, was dead at the age of 56, after a seven year battle with cancer. Word of his passing reached across the entire world in what seemed like an instant, in large part thanks to the revolution that he ignited. Many found themselves surprised at how strong their grief was. Very few of us had ever even met the man, much less knew him personally. CEOs, after all, are not the kind of people we usually pay much attention to, and certainly not positively when we do. They are nameless, faceless old men, in high floor offices, who do little more than delegate to those beneath them. This could not be further from what Steve was.
As news of his death turned into a discussion of his legacy, Steve was placed among the company of some of history’s greatest inventors, one of the most common comparisons being to Walt Disney. Jobs connection to Disney went beyond simply equating him to Walt. Steve was the largest single shareholder in the Walt Disney Company, holding 7% of the shares, as well as having a seat on the board of directors. If it were not for him, we would not have Buzz and Woody, or Nemo, or WALL-E, or any of the Pixar characters we have come to know and love. His impact technology and entertainment alike simply cannot be overstated.
Steve Jobs was born on February 24, 1955 to Abdulfattah Jandali and Joanne Carole Schieble. He was put up for adoption, and would be adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. Steve grew up in the part of the country that would become the epicenter of the entire technology revolution for which he would become a leader. His involvement in that industry began early. He met Steve Wozniak, with whom he would later cofound Apple, in 1970. Jobs took a summer job at HP, working with Wozniak, as he began to develop his vision of a fully assembled, easy to use computer that anyone could own- a radical idea for the time.
He dropped out of college after only one semester. He would then go on to work for Atari as a technician. During this time, he traveled to India, seeking enlightenment. He became a Buddhist, and took LSD, later calling it one of the most important experiences of his life. He returned to Atari, and reconnected with Wozniak.
The two were natural friends, both enjoying playing elaborate pranks, going so far as hacking the phone system to place a call to the Vatican (they claimed to be Henry Kissinger). Wozniak was an engineering genius, while Jobs was more interested in the business aspect of technology. Combining their talents, and selling their positions, they formed their own computer company to bring their ideas to the world.
The beginning of Apple
The story of Apple’s founding is so well known that it has almost become cliché for tech startups to trace their roots back to a garage in California (so much so that this very scene would eventually make its way into Spaceship Earth). Apple was hardly the first tech company to start in a garage- HP beat them to it by 40 years, but the story is an iconic part of their history. Jobs and Wozniak, along with friend Ronald Wayne, cofounded Apple in 1976. Wozniak would create the original Apple Computer (now referred to as the Apple I), which Jobs would market to local computer shops. The computer is not much to look at by today’s standards; it did not include the case, the monitor, or the keyboard. This was, however, a great advancement for the time, as the rest of the computer was fully assembled. Most other computers were merely kits that required full self-assembly. The Apple I is incredibly rare (only 200 were made, about 50 of which remain today). In 2010, an Apple I went for nearly $200,000 at an auction.
Apple followed up with the machine that would put it and the entire concept of the personal computer on the map- the Apple II. The machine was a complete package. You didn’t need to be able to build a computer to use this computer. Various models of Apple II were made over the years, and were a common sight in classrooms in the 80s and 90s. The very first computer I ever used was an Apple IIe. An attempt at an upgrade in the form of the Apple III failed due to numerous hardware flaws, and the Apple II continued to thrive. Apple continued to sell the machine all the way into 1993.
The Apple II turned Apple from a startup to a major player in the nascent computer industry. Jobs, still in his 20s, was seen as lacking the proper executive experience to lead the company. One can argue that the path to Pixar began when Jobs brought in Pepsi President John Sculley to be the new CEO of Apple Computer. The partnership was initially a positive one. By this time Wozniak, the man who created the first two products for Apple almost entirely on his own, was no longer a major player at Apple following a small plane crash in 1981. Jobs set his sights on something radically new that would take the computer industry in an entirely new direction.
In hindsight, it seems that Xerox did not realize the potential of what their PARC division was working on. Steve, however, was captivated by the idea of a computer that didn’t need text commands to operate, instead relying on a series of graphics being controlled by a little device called a “mouse”. Apple would be the first to mass market this idea with the release of the Lisa, in 1983. Steve, however, was forced out of the project; instead joining a small group of Apple engineers working on a machine they were calling the Macintosh. The Lisa was an incredible piece of hardware, but its $10,000 price tag was a deal breaker for many.
The 1984 Super Bowl is probably better remembered for the involvement of Steve Jobs during the commercials than for the game itself. The famous “1984” ad, directed by Ridley Scott, would forever serve as the prototype for the memorable, powerful advertisement. The Orwellian inspired commercial almost didn’t make it to air, as Apple’s board of directors hated the idea. At Steve’s insistence, 60 seconds of the originally planned 90 aired during the game, and remains one of the most influential advertisements in history.
Two days later, an energetic Steve Jobs pulled the Macintosh out of a bag on stage in San Francisco before an amazed audience. In the first “Stevenote” address he would give, he allowed the computer to introduce itself to wild applause. The Macintosh brought a whole new computer experience to the public, and remains an icon of the early computer industry.
The birth of Pixar
Shortly after the introduction of the Macintosh, the relationship with CEO Sculley began to deteriorate. While the computer captivated imaginations, it did not sell to expectations. A power struggle between the two men left Sculley in charge, and Jobs with practically no power in the company he built. In 1985, he left Apple. Still intensely focused on the computer industry, he founded NeXT Computer shortly after departing Apple. The company would be at the forefront in the fields of technology and design, no better demonstrated than in the form of the NeXTcube, a 12”x12”x12” computer that looked like nothing else that had been seen before. But NeXT struggled to gain a foothold in the business. Steve, meanwhile, was working on something new.
In 1986, he purchased the Graphics Group from George Lucas. Much like NeXT, the Pixar computer struggled to gain ground with business. One of the early buyers of the technology was Disney, who made it the basis for CAPS, the Computer Animation Production System. The system would first be put to use in The Little Mermaid, and would go on to create the amazing series of films that comprise the Disney Renaissance.
As Pixar struggled, it shifted focus into animation. The company left the hardware business, and had downsized to only 42 employees. Steve focused the company on the talents of John Lasseter. Lasseter’s work had earned much praise, and led to a broadening of the relationship with Disney, in turn leading to a deal between the two companies for Pixar to produce three animated features, setting the stage to revolutionize the art form in a way not seen since Walt released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs nearly 60 years before.
Success and return
Toy Story premiered on November 19, 1995. It was, in many ways, a last gasp for Pixar, as their continued financial losses had Steve ready to sell the company. As the reviews, and the earnings, poured in, it became clear that Pixar had struck gold. The film would receive some of the highest praise by critics ever seen. Pixar would begin an unprecedented roll out of hit after hit. Steve’s fortune was turning around, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
In 1996, Apple turned their eye Steve’s way after several failed attempts to develop a modern successor to the aging Mac OS. The company was in an incredibly dire position. It’s marketshare was at an all time low, and was hemorrhaging money. Many technology and business analysts were predicting the imminent death of Apple Computer. Late in 1996, Steve returned when Apple purchased NeXT, to use it as their next generation software. Initially an advisor, Steve quickly orchestrated the ouster of then CEO Gil Amelio. Steve was named interim CEO of the company he had founded 20 years before.
While both Steve and Apple’s board were clear at the time that Steve really was “interim” as they searched for a new CEO, behind the scenes, he began cleaning house. Many of Apple’s less successful product lines, including the Newton MessagePad PDA (much to the dismay of a small but vocal fanbase the product had) were discontinued. Apple needed something to reintroduce itself to the world. It needed something no one had seen before. In 1998, the iMac would be the first piece of the puzzle to fall into place. Jobs, the iCEO, had put Apple back on the map.
Pixar, meanwhile, was on a roll. One box office smash followed another, but trouble was brewing. The relationship with Disney was about to hit a rough patch. When Toy Story 2 went from direct to video to full theatrical release, Pixar wanted it to be counted as a part of the original agreement for three films. Disney refused, as the party that held more of the strings, they won. At the same time as Pixar was rising, Walt Disney animation was falling on hard times. The renaissance period of the late 80’s and 90’s had ended, and a collection of disappointing films shifted the public’s focus toward the new company on the block.
Rise of Apple, Fall of Eisner
In 2001, Apple would make a shocking move. The “interim” before the letters CEO had been removed, and Steve was firmly in control. At a small event on the Apple campus, Steve introduced the world to the little device that would become the pop culture icon of the first decade of the 21st century, the iPod. Initial reaction ranged from confusion to downright derision. It was too expensive, only worked with Macs, a market that Apple had no place wandering into. But it sold, and after a few years and several revisions, the iPod had almost completely destroyed the CD player market.
Even more impressive, Steve managed to make a business out of music downloads. In need of a legitimate way for users to get their music for their fancy new iPods, Apple opened the iTunes Music Store in 2003. At the time, music downloads were still almost exclusively in the realm of illegal downloads, and the assumption was that no one would ever pay for music on the internet, after having it for free. But in just a few short years, iTunes would eclipse all other music services, both physical and online. CD stores vanished one by one (eventually leaving Walt Disney World with a large empty building in Downtown Disney’s West Side). In less than 10 years since Steve’s return, Apple went from the brink of disappearing, to the most influential force in two industries.
Pixar, meanwhile, continued to bring home the hits. But the relationship with Disney continued to sour. Not helping the situation was Michael Eisner’s testimony before Congress in 2002. In a discussion about how computers were damaging the entertainment industry, he singled out as an example the “Rip, Mix, Burn” campaign. This was, of course, Apple’s advertising campaign for iTunes (before the music store opened).
Steve was reportedly enraged when he heard of the comments. By 2004, Pixar had announced that it was ending its relationship with Disney, and would seek another partner to distribute its films. This came at a difficult time for Eisner. The Disney War was in full swing, with Roy Disney publicly calling for his ouster. Shareholders became even more frantic at the thought of Disney losing Pixar. At the time, Disney’s own animated films were flopping, while Pixar could seemingly do no wrong. In the end, perhaps no one other than Roy Disney himself would be as responsible for Eisner’s downfall as Steve Jobs. In 2005, Michael Eisner stepped down as CEO of Disney.
Following Eisner’s announcement that he would be stepping down, there was much speculation that Steve Jobs would be an excellent replacement. A grassroots movement sprung up online to support this line of succession. When it was announced that that Eisner’s longtime assistant Bob Iger would take over the company, there was a fear that things would remain just as bad as they had been, and that the Pixar deal was hopeless. Jobs had positive words for Iger, however, and negotiations restarted between the two companies.
In early 2006, Disney announced that it would be purchasing Pixar. Steve Jobs would become by far the largest shareholder in the Walt Disney Company, holding 7%. He would also go on to earn a seat on the board of directors. After years of struggle in the worlds of technology and entertainment, Steve Jobs was now a titan of both.
At the Worldwide Developer Conference in 2006, Steve took to the stage to announce the Mac Pro, the last piece in the puzzle of the transition to Intel that had begun the year prior, and OS X 10.5 Leopard, the next version of the operating system that would launch in spring of the next year (later delayed to the fall thanks to the introduction of the iPhone). Not long after the keynote, speculation began online as to the nature of Steve’s health, many who watched the address reporting that he appeared very thin.
In late 2003, Steve had been diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease, with most patients lasting less than a year. Jobs, however, had a less aggressive form of the disease than most, and after several months of trying alternative therapies, he went in for surgery in 2004. This would be the first of three medical leaves he would take as CEO, putting COO Tim Cook in charge in his absence. By 2005, he was back as the face of Apple. Both Steve and the company brushed aside concerns following the 2006 WWDC keynote.
In January 2007, Steve took to the stage to make the greatest presentation since he pulled the Macintosh out of the bag in 1984. Amid a fury of speculation, Steve announced that Apple would step into a whole new industry that they had never attempted before, the mobile phone market. The introduction of the iPhone became the number one story on every tech news outlet instantaneously. That one announcement completely overshadowed the entire Consumer Electronics Show that was simultaneously taking place in Las Vegas. Steve was so sure of this new direction that Apple Computer Inc. became Apple Inc. For six long months the world waited as Apple revved up for the product launch that made international headlines when it finally landed in stores that June.
I can report firsthand the almost circus-like atmosphere that happened that day. I spent the entire day in line at the 5th Avenue store in New York City. A wall of reporters and photographers that you would expect to see at the Academy Awards awaited us as we entered the store. Many pundits thought the mobile phone market was too difficult even for Apple. But the iPhone changed everything. All smartphones that followed would be based on this device. It changed the entire industry overnight.
The overwhelming success of the iPhone propelled Apple into becoming the most valuable tech company in the world (and eventually becoming the most valuable company in the world of any type). But the questions of his health would resurface a year later as he once again appeared very thin onstage. In January 2009, Steve announced that he was taking a 6 month leave from Apple to focus on his health. During this time, he would undergo a liver transplant.
Apple would remain Steve’s main focus. He was no longer in charge of Pixar, and by all accounts he did not use his board position to make any massive changes at Disney. There was one area where he directly contributed to Disney, and that was to help revamp their beleaguered retail stores. After selling off the Disney Store division, only to buy it back four years later, Disney needed to reinvigorate the brand. Apple was in the middle of one of the most stunning retail booms the industry had ever seen. Disney turned to their largest shareholder for advice on how to relaunch their retail presence.
Steve returned to Apple as planned in June of 2009. A few months later, he would take to the stage to break Apple into another struggling market, the tablet market. Despite early concerns over the name, and where it would fit in a user’s life, and what need it would serve, the iPad went on to be one of the fastest selling pieces of consumer electronics in history. There is a very good chance that you are reading this article on one right now.
In January 2011, Steve again announced that he would be taking medical leave from Apple, this time with no date as to when he would return. He would remain actively involved, taking the stage in the spring to announce the iPad 2. His last keynote speech for Apple would be in June of 2011. The final new product he announced was Apple’s iCloud service. He would not see the service launch to the public. On August 24, 2011, Steve officially resigned as Apple’s CEO, passing the position to Tim Cook. He retained a seat on the board, and remained Chairman of the company. He told the board that he could no longer fulfill his duties at Apple.
On October 4th, Apple held their first announcement since Steve had stepped down. He was not in attendance for the event, but by all accounts he was still working behind the scenes, even that day. The next day, October 5th 2011, Steve Jobs passed away at the age of 56.
Steve Jobs did not invent computers. He did not make Apple’s computers. He wasn’t an animator, and he wasn’t a musician. Yet, he had a profound impact on every one of those industries. Steve was an artist in his own way. He understood good design and good work, and would accept nothing less than perfection. He was a difficult man to work for, and those unwilling to be pushed well beyond their limits did not last long.
Steve was a man who defied the common wisdom again and again. When everyone else saw computers as bulky business tools, he saw works of art waiting for the average person to bring into their home. Where the music industry saw the end of the line in the internet, he saw an entirely new business model. When everyone else said the cell phone industry was stagnant, he saw a world of possibilities waiting to be unlocked.
When is the last time you bought a CD? When is the last time you read the news in a newspaper? Was it not long ago that touch screens still seemed like something from science fiction? Steve had a guiding hand in all of that.
He did not rely on focus groups or surveys, and he did not care what the press thought his next move should be. Steve had a vision, and nothing short of that vision being perfectly realized would ever be enough. The quality he demanded was evident the moment you looked at the creations he guided.
Steve currently makes two appearances at Epcot, although the exact identity of the first is debatable. A man working on a computer in a garage in the 1970s appears near the top of Spaceship Earth. His identity is not clear, he appears to more closely resemble Steve Wozniak more than anyone else. Regardless, the scene immediately says, the founding of Apple. An unambiguous appearance is in the “Golden Dreams” finale of The American Adventure. A smiling Steve Jobs in 1984 stands next to the Macintosh as it says “Hello” to the world.
Disneyland was Walt’s vision. So many people made it a reality, but Walt made it happen. Apple under Steve Jobs was the same. He was firmly in charge, and everything the company did, right down to the type of wood used in the stools at the Apple Store, were hand chosen by him. Neither man understood hands off, nor were they content sitting on a pile of money and watching the rest of the world pass him by.
Following his death, Apple board member and former Vice President Al Gore stated that Steve was very much aware of the “What would Walt do” way of thinking following Disney’s death. He did not want a repeat of that to happen at Apple. Steve knew that his products, like Walt had said of Disneyland, would never be finished. Just as we will never know what Walt would have done with the internet and cell phones had they been available in his lifetime, we can only guess what Steve would have done with the technology of the next decade.
It is amazing to think that if Steve had not been fired by Apple in 1985, we may never have had the amazing films of the last 16 years. Apple will be Steve’s crowning achievement in life, but the gang from Toy Story, much like Snow White, Dumbo, and Mickey Mouse, will be with us long after the pieces of technology we are watching them on now are gone. Steve instilled in Pixar his sense of perfection- that no film should be made just to be made. “Never settle” he told the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University. He certainly never did. Disney was a natural fit for Steve. While I could find no evidence of any direct involvement he had with Imagineering, it’s hard to believe that their current home run streak was not at least partially influenced by his idea that even if you can’t achieve perfection, you could get pretty close.
So much of what we do has been impacted by Steve Jobs. This article was written on a MacBook Air, and this magazine is edited on Macs. I will read my fellow writers articles on an iPad. The very idea of a magazine that did not exist in print form would have seemed ridiculous not too long ago. Now, it seems almost silly when content does not exist in digital form.
This is why I could not help but shed a tear for a man I never met. The world lost someone who understood how to take something magical and make it real. He proved that if can dream it, we really can do it. Thank you Steve, for being insanely great!