Steven Paul Jobs, 56, died Wednesday at his home with his family. The co-founder and, until last August, CEO of Apple Inc was the most celebrated person in technology and business on the planet. No one will take issue with the official Apple statement that “The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”
It had taken a while for the world to realize what an amazing treasure Steve Jobs was. But Jobs knew it all along. That was part of what was so unusual about him. From at least the time he was a teenager, Jobs had a freakish chutzpah. At age 13, he called up the head of HP and cajoled him into giving Jobs free computer chips. It was part of a lifelong pattern of setting and fulfilling astronomical standards.
Throughout his career, he was fearless in his demands. He kicked aside the hoops that everyone else had to negotiate and straightforwardly and brazenly pursued what he wanted. When he got what he wanted — something that occurred with astonishing frequency — he accepted it as his birthright.
If Jobs were not so talented, if he were not so visionary, if he were not so canny in determining where others had failed in producing great products and what was necessary to succeed, his pushiness and imperiousness would have made him a figure of mockery.
But Steve Jobs was that talented, visionary and determined. He combined an innate understanding of technology with an almost supernatural sense of what customers would respond to. His conviction that design should be central to his products not only produced successes in the marketplace but elevated design in general, not just in consumer electronics but everything that aspires to the high end.
As a child of the sixties who was nurtured in Silicon Valley, his career merged the two strains in a way that reimagined business itself. And he did it as if he didn’t give a damn who he pissed off. He could bully underlings and corporate giants with the same contempt. But when he chose to charm, he was almost irresistible. His friend, Heidi Roizen, once gave advice to a fellow Apple employee that the only way to avoid falling prey to the dual attacks of venom and charm at all hours was not to answer the phone. That didn’t work, the employee said, because Jobs lived only a few blocks away. Jobs would bang on the door and not go away.
For most of his 56 years, Steve Jobs banged on doors, but for the past dozen or so very few were closed to him. He was the most adored and admired business executive on the planet, maybe in history. Presidents and rock stars came to see him. His fans waited up all night to gain entry into his famous “Stevenote” speeches at Macworld, almost levitating with anticipation of what Jobs might say. Even his peccadilloes and dark side became heralded.
His accomplishments were unmatched. People who can claim credit for game-changing products — iconic inventions that become embedded in the culture and answers to Jeopardy questions decades later — are few and far between. But Jobs has had not one, not two, but six of these breakthroughs, any one of which would have made for a magnificent career. In order: the Apple II, the Macintosh, the movie studio Pixar, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. (This doesn’t even include the consistent, brilliant improvements to the Macintosh operating system, or the Apple retail store juggernaut.) Had he lived a natural lifespan, there would have almost certainly been more.