In 1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created their first computer, the Apple I.1 They invested a mere $1,300 and set up business in Jobs’ garage. Three decades later, their business—Apple Inc.—has become one of the world’s most influential and successful companies. Jobs and Wozniak were successful entrepreneurs: those who take the risks and reap the rewards associated with starting a new business enterprise. Did you ever wonder why Apple flourished while so many other young companies failed? How did it grow from a garage start-up to a company generating over $233 billion in sales in 2015? How was it able to transform itself from a nearly bankrupt firm to a multinational corporation with locations all around the world? You might conclude that it was the company’s products, such as the Apple I and II, the Macintosh, or more recently its wildly popular iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Or, you could decide that it was its dedicated employees, management’s wiliness to take calculated risks, or just plain luck – that Apple simply was in the right place at the right time.
Before we draw any conclusions about what made Apple what it is today and what will propel it into a successful future, you might like to learn more about Steve Jobs, the company’s cofounder and former CEO. Jobs was instrumental in the original design of the Apple I and, after being ousted from his position with the company, returned to save the firm from destruction and lead it onto its current path. Growing up, Jobs had an interest in computers. He attended lectures at Hewlett-Packard after school and worked for the company during the summer months. He took a job at Atari after graduating from high school and saved his money to make a pilgrimage to India in search of spiritual enlightenment. Following his India trip, he attended Steve Wozniak’s “Homebrew Computer Club” meetings, where the idea for building a personal computer surfaced.2 “Many colleagues describe Jobs as a brilliant man who could be a great motivator and positively charming. At the same time his drive for perfection was so strong that employees who did not meet his demands [were] faced with blistering verbal attacks.”3 Not everyone at Apple appreciated Jobs’ brilliance and ability to motivate. Nor did they all go along with his willingness to do whatever it took to produce an innovative, attractive, high-quality product. So at age thirty, Jobs found himself ousted from Apple by John Sculley, whom Jobs himself had hired as president of the company several years earlier. It seems that Sculley wanted to cut costs and thought it would be easier to do so without Jobs around. Jobs sold $20 million of his stock and went on a two-month vacation to figure out what he would do for the rest of his life. His solution: start a new personal computer company called NextStep. In 1993, he was invited back to Apple (a good thing, because neither his new company nor Apple was doing well).
Steve Jobs was definitely not known for humility, but he was a visionary and had a right to be proud of his accomplishments. Some have commented that “Apple’s most successful days occurred with Steve Jobs at the helm.”4
Jobs did what many successful CEOs and managers do: he learned, adjusted, and improvised.5 Perhaps the most important statement that can be made about him is this: he never gave up on the company that once turned its back on him. So now you have the facts. Here’s a multiple-choice question that you’ll likely get right: Apple’s success is due to (a) its products, (b) its customers, (c) luck, (d) its willingness to take risks, (e) Steve Jobs, or (f) some combination of these options.