Steve Jobs’ stellar career is already the stuff of legend. He co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in 1976. In 1977, the company’s first mass-market product, the Apple II, helped ignite the personal computing revolution. When IBM released its PC in 1981, it was largely in response to the Apple II.
In 1984, Jobs unveiled the Macintosh. Announced with the most famous Super Bowl ad of all-time, the first Mac introduced a mainstream audience to user-interface concepts — pointing and clicking on a desktop — that are still in use today.
Despite its polish and appearance, the Macintosh was not able to match the commercial success of IBM’s PC (and other PC compatible systems) — or even match the sales of the Apple II.
The NeXT Chapter
Disagreements over the vision and style of Apple forced Jobs out in 1985. After resigning from the company he founded, Jobs went on to start NeXT, a company that aimed to bring his vision of personal computing and programming to educators, engineers and designers.
NeXT wasn’t the success that Jobs hoped that it would be. It didn’t fulfill on its promise to change the computing industry — at least, not at first. But Mac OS X is a direct descendant of NeXTSTEP, the operating system developed by Jobs’ team at NeXT. Objective-C, the programming language that is still used in Mac OS X and in iOS, was developed at NeXT.
It’s easy to think NeXT’s track record was unsuccessful. But the technology products that have made Apple not just a successful company, but the most valuable company in the world, are direct descendants of work done at NeXT. iOS simply wouldn’t be iOS without the work that Jobs fostered at his second company.
And by buying NeXT, as Apple did in 1997, it was buying back Steve Jobs himself — who soon ousted the hapless Gil Amelio as CEO.
Pixar and the Future of Animation
Of course, Jobs’ business legacy is about more than just Apple. In 1986, Jobs acquired a small animation studio called Pixar. It would be Pixar, not Apple, that would bring Jobs major success in the 1990s.
After years of toiling away in obscurity, Pixar hit the big time in 1995 with Toy Story, the first completely computer animated full-length motion picture. In 2006, Jobs sold Pixar to the Walt Disney Company for more than $7 billion. Jobs became a member of Disney’s Board of Directors — and the company’s largest shareholder.
While the success of Pixar should be largely attributed to director John Lasseter, the decision to acquire the company and invest in its technology in 1986 is a great example of Jobs’ vision and understanding of the future.
A Second and Third Act of Success
Since returning to Apple in 1997, Jobs has lead his company through the most phenomenal turn-around story in business history. Since taking over as CEO in 1997 — initially, he said, for an interim period — Apple’s stock has increased nearly a hundredfold.
1998′s introduction of the iMac and the 2001 introduction of the iPod led many to call Apple’s early 2000s renaissance the “most successful second act in business history.” But it has been in the last four years — since the introduction of the iPhone — that Apple has utterly dominated. Earlier this month, Apple overtookExxon as the most valuable company.
It’s not just marketing rhetoric to say that the iPhone, and now the iPad, has changed everything. As we noted in June, “every major smartphone that has gone into production since the iPhone’s release has, in some way, been a response to the iPhone itself.”
This is even more true of tablet computing. From Samsung to HP, Acer to Asus, the tablets that currently exist in the marketplace are direct responses to the iPad. HP’s TouchPad was perhaps the most direct descendent — with everything from its form factor and scree resolution mimicking the iPad. We all know how that story has ended.
An Unknown Future
Steve Jobs leaves the company he co-founded in tremendous shape. With tens of billions of cash on hand, products that sell out as fast as they can be produced, and an ecosystem that continues to expand, the company’s future footing is solid.
Moreover, one needs look no further than Disney to see that it is possible for corporations to continue to succeed, even without their visionary founder at the helm.