Today we mourn Steve Jobs but we can be sure that his brave questioning spirit will inspire others in the days to me.
Jobs was just 21 when he founded Apple computer in 1976 with Steve Wozniak in his family garage. He was forced out a decade later and returned in 1997 to rescue the company. During his second stint, it grew into the most valuable technology company in the world with a market value of $351 billion. Almost all that wealth has been created since Jobs return.
Steven Paul Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco to Joanne Simpson, then an unmarried graduate student and Abdullah Jandali, a student from Syria. Simpson gave Jobs up for adoption, though she married Jandali and a few years later had a second child with him, Mona Simpson, who became a novelist.
Steven was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs of Los Altos, California, a working couple who nurtured his early interest in electronics. He saw his first computer terminal at NASA’s Ames Research Centre when he was 11 and landed a summer job at Hewlett Packard before he had finished high school.
Jobs enrolled in Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1972, but dropped out after six month. ‘All of my working class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I could not see the value in it’ he said at a Stanford University Commencement address in 2005. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out’.
When he returned to California in 1974, Jobs worked for video game maker Atari and attended meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club ‘a group of computer hobbyists’ with Steve Wozniak, a high school friend who was a few years older. Wozniak’s homemade computer drew attention from other enthusiasts, but Jobs saw its potential far beyond the geeky hobbyists of the time. The pair started Apple computer in Jobs’ parents’ garage in 1976. According to Wozniak, Jobs suggested the name after visiting an ‘apple orchard’ that Wozniak said was actually a commune.
Their first creation was the Apple I ‘essentially, the guts of a computer without a case, keyboard or monitor. The Apple II, which hit the market in 1977, was their first machine for the masses. It became so popular that Jobs was worth $100 million by age 25.
During a 1979 visit to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre, Jobs again spotted mass potential in a niche invention: a computer that allowed people to control computers with the click of a mouse, not typed commands. He returned to Apple and ordered his engineering team to copy what he had seen.
It is important to remark here that Jobs did not show any hesitation to take other people’s concepts, improve on them and spin them into wildly successful products. Under Jobs, Apple did not invent computers, digital music players or smartphones’ it reinvented them for people who did not want to learn computer programming or negotiate the technical hassles of keeping their gadgets working. The engineers responded with two computers the Pricier Lisa’ the same name as his daughter’ launched to a cool reception in 1983. The less expensive Macintosh, named after an employee’s favourite apple, exploded onto the scene in 1984.
With Apple’s stock price sinking, conflicts between Jobs and Sculley mounted. Sculley won over the board in 1985 and pushed Jobs out of his day-to-day role leading the Macintosh team. Jobs resigned his post as chairman of the board and left Apple within months.
‘What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone and it was devastating’ Jobs said in his Stanford Speech. ‘I did not see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It forced me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.’
He got into two other companies: Next, a computer maker, and Pixar, a computer animation studio that he bought from George Lucas for $10 million. Pixar, ultimately the more successful venture, seemed at first a bottomless money pit. Then in 1995 came ‘Toy Story’ the first computer-animated full length feature. Jobs used it success to negotiate a sweeter deal with Disney for Pixar’s next two films, ‘A Bug’s Life’ and Toy Story 2.
Ultimately, he shifted his focus to software ‘a move that paid off later when Apple bought Next for its operating system technology, the basis for the software still used in Mac computers. By 1996, when Apple bought Next, Apple was in dire financial straits. It had lost more than $800 million in a year, dragged its heel in licensing Mac Software for other computers and surrendered most of its market share to PCs that ran Windows.