Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM American National Biography Online. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in American National Biography Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Jobs, Stevefree

(24 Feb. 1955–5 Oct. 2011)
  • Alan Deutschman

Portrait of Steve Jobs, 2004, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, © Diana Walker

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, © Diana Walker

Jobs, Steve (24 Feb. 1955–5 Oct. 2011), entrepreneur, inventor, and computer industry leader, was born Steven Paul Jobs in San Francisco, California, the first child of Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, a Syrian immigrant studying for his doctorate in political science at the University of Wisconsin, and Joanne Schieble, a master’s student in speech. After Schieble’s dying father threatened to disown her if she married the Muslim man, they gave up their son for adoption at birth. The boy would be raised by Paul Jobs, a Coast Guard veteran who worked at various times as a machinist, a used-car salesman, and a “repo man” (taking possession of cars from borrowers who couldn’t repay their loans), and his wife Clara, a part-time bookkeeper and payroll clerk. Schieble was concerned that neither adoptive parent had graduated from high school, and she made them sign a pledge to save money for Steve’s college education.

When Steve was five years old, the family moved from San Francisco to a tract house in Mountain View, a suburb in the Santa Clara Valley, which in 1971 would be dubbed “Silicon Valley” by Electronics News for its plethora of microelectronics companies. The family’s means were modest: They didn’t own a color television, and Clara took on extra work as a babysitter to pay for Steve’s swimming lessons.

Steve Jobs was uncommonly bright and intellectual as a child. Socially awkward, he was a loner and troublemaker who spurned authority and perpetrated pranks. Bullied as a seventh grader, he insisted that his family put him in a different school, so the family moved to a better school district in nearby Los Altos. Jobs became an electronics tinkerer, and he conspired with an older graduate of his high school, Stephen Wozniak (“Woz”), a gifted computer programmer, to create “blue box” devices that enabled them to make long-distance telephone calls for free.

The teenage Jobs in the early 1970s was strongly influenced by the lifestyles and ideals of the older “hippies” who had come of age a few years earlier. He pursued interests in marijuana, LSD, sleep deprivation, Eastern mysticism (especially Zen Buddhism), extreme vegetarian and “fruitarian” diets, primal scream therapy, and the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan. After graduating from Homestead High School in neighboring Cupertino in 1972, he enrolled in Reed College, an academically distinguished school in Portland, Oregon, with a countercultural bent. While Jobs is now known as one of America’s most famous college dropouts, he was actually more of a “drop-in” at Reed, which he attended even though his family couldn’t afford the expensive tuition. Jobs convinced the dean of students to let him live in the dorms and attend classes for free. He ate free vegetarian meals at the local Hare Krishna temple and the All One Farm commune, where he met visiting Tibetan monks, swamis, healers, and meditation gurus. Returning home to California in February 1974, Jobs moved back to his parents’ house and took a job at Atari, a videogame maker, though he often relied on his friend Wozniak (an engineer at Hewlett-Packard) to do his programming work for him. He took a break from his time at Atari to make a spiritual pilgrimage to India with his Reed classmate Daniel Kottke.

The Legend of the Garage Startup

In 1975 Jobs began going with Wozniak to meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, a gathering of the early tinkerers with personal computers. In 1976 Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus for $1,500 and Wozniak sold his HP65 calculator for $500 to raise capital to make and sell personal computers under the Apple brand. On 1 April 1976 they signed a partnership agreement along with an Atari engineer, Ron Wayne, who soon backed out. While Apple is legendary as the archetypal Silicon Valley “garage startup,” the venture went further to take over much of the family’s small house, including his sister Patti’s former bedroom and the kitchen table. The Apple I, which retailed for $666.66, was an electronics circuit board without a monitor, keyboard, or case—all features that they planned for the Apple II, which would require much more investment. After a visit to the garage, venture capitalist Donald Valentine of Sequoia Capital introduced Jobs to Armas Clifford “Mike” Markkula, Jr., a former Intel executive who could provide cash and managerial skill. On 3 January 1977 they formed Apple Computer Co., which replaced the original partnership. The Apple II debuted in 1977 and soon achieved remarkable success, with sales rising swiftly from 2,500 units in 1977 to 210,000 in 1981. The Apple II proved easy enough for ordinary people to use. Thanks to Jobs’s intense interest in aesthetics, the machine’s plastic casing had an attractive design. The Apple II helped bring computing to the masses, aided by software programs such as the VisiCalc spreadsheet, which came out in 1979.

While Jobs lived in “Rancho Suburbia,” a house he shared with Kottke and Chrisann Brennan (his girlfriend from their high school years), Brennan became pregnant. She gave birth to their daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, on 17 May 1978. Jobs shocked his friends and colleagues by denying paternity. While the mother and daughter subsisted on public assistance, Jobs refused to take financial responsibility even though Apple was preparing to sell stock to the public in a deal that would make him wealthy. In 1979 San Mateo County, California forced Jobs to take a DNA test, which determined a 99.41 percent probability that he was the father, and then ordered him to admit paternity and begin making child-support payments. The following year, on 12 December 1980, Apple’s stock went public, and Jobs’s stake was worth $256 million. He was twenty-five years old.

Apple’s success helped inspire the entry into the market of IBM, the leading maker of large business computers, which launched its own PC in August 1981. Jobs appeared on the cover of Time magazine (February 1982) as a symbol of a new wave of entrepreneurialism in America. Jobs was a popular culture hero, combining the idealism of the hippie generation with the burgeoning worship of corporate success in America’s Ronald Reagan era. He showed that a profit-seeking businessman could be youthful and creative like a rock star—and a force for revolutionary change in the culture. Jobs expected to be Time’s “Man of the Year” for 1982, but the magazine instead chose “the computer” as the “Machine of the Year” and ran an accompanying story detailing the dark side of Jobs’s personality, including his flight from parental responsibility and his dictatorial streak at work, where he could be uncommonly inspiring but also brutally demeaning to colleagues in his obsessive quests for perfection.

While Jobs was passionate about product design and promotion, he lacked the business experience to run a major company. In 1983, when Markkula was readying to retire, Jobs helped recruit John Sculley, the president of the soda-maker Pepsi-Cola, to serve as Apple’s top executive, luring him by saying: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” Meanwhile Jobs led the team creating the Macintosh computer, which adopted an intuitive, easy-to-use, visual approach from the pioneering work that Jobs had seen at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center.

Sculley and Jobs teamed up to give the Macintosh a high-profile debut on 24 January 1984, airing a provocative Super Bowl commercial by the Chiat/Day advertising agency that portrayed Apple as the idealistic rebels fighting against the “Big Brother” conformity of IBM’s PCs. The first version of the Macintosh was a technical and design marvel but a commercial flop. Sales of the IBM PC dwarfed those of the Apple II as well. The company’s financial challenges provoked infighting. After Sculley prevailed in a power struggle in May 1985, and Jobs quit Apple at the age of thirty.

Jobs considered a variety of new pursuits—living as an expatriate artist in France, running for one of California’s seats in the US Senate, flying on the space shuttle, and even moving to the Soviet Union to help promote PCs for Mikhail Gorbachev—before he decided to resume his career as a technology entrepreneur. He sought to prove that his precocious success wasn’t a fluke and to show up his rival Sculley. Widely hailed as a technologic visionary, he also yearned to be known as a brilliant businessman like William (“Bill”) Gates III from Microsoft, who was both a friend and rival. Aspiring to create the next great computer, Jobs launched NeXT Inc. in September 1985 with a handful of former Apple colleagues. He also paid $5 million to George Lucas to spin off the Star Wars filmmaker’s 3D animation team into a new company called Pixar in 1986.

Jobs’s vision for NeXT was to make a computer for higher education. The NeXT Cube debuted in October 1988 at $6,500 and cost as much as $10,000 with a laser printer. It was technologically impressive but shockingly expensive at a time when college students could buy ordinary PCs for $1,500. NeXT sold few machines. Meanwhile Pixar struggled financially as it, too, found few buyers for its expensive graphics computer, though its creative and engineering teams continually advanced the craft of 3D computer animation with their award-winning short films. By late 1990 Jobs had depleted most of his personal fortune funding his startups. But Jobs’s chance for redemption came in May 1991, when Disney agreed to finance Pixar’s Toy Story, which would be the first full-length 3D computer-animated feature film.

On 18 March 1991, Jobs married Laurene Powell in a ceremony at Yosemite National Park. Powell had met Jobs when he came to speak to her Master of Business Administration class at Stanford, and she had gone on to launch a natural foods startup company. When they married, she was pregnant with their son, who was born in September 1991. Two more children, both daughters, were born in 1995 and 1998.

In February 1993 NeXT shut down its factory, abandoned its computer hardware business, and laid off most of its 530 employees. Going forward the company would focus on making software to run on other manufacturers’ machines. The decision was harrowing for Jobs, who loved making hardware. Soon afterward Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg became dissatisfied with the storyline of Toy Story, and he discontinued production of the film on 17 November 1993. As the leader of two failing ventures, Jobs was at his lowest point, and he even considered abandoning his career.

The turnaround came when Toy Story director John Lasseter revamped the movie’s story. Katzenberg ordered the production to start up again in April 1994. The movie debuted on 22 November 1995, achieving critical and commercial success. Jobs swiftly followed the movie’s opening with an initial public offering of stock in Pixar on 29 November. In the stock’s first hour of trading, its price rose from $22 a share to $45, and Jobs had become a billionaire.

The Return to Apple

As Pixar’s financial success rehabilitated Jobs’s reputation as a businessman, he began positioning himself as the savior for Apple, which had struggled as less-costly PCs emulated the Macintosh’s ease of use by running Microsoft’s Windows software. Apple’s stock price and sales had been falling for years, and the company seemed destined for bankruptcy. Jobs told his friends that he longed to return to Apple, which remained vital to his own identity. In December 1996 he sold NeXT to Apple for $430 million and agreed to serve as an “informal advisor.” But Jobs used his close relationships with reporters to discredit Apple’s chief executive officer, Gilbert (“Gil”) Amelio, and promote himself as the person who could save the company. After Apple announced that it had lost $708 million in the first three months of 1997—and a total of $1.6 billion in the first year and a quarter of Amelio’s run as CEO—the board of directors removed Amelio on 9 July 1997. The board installed Jobs as “interim CEO” on 16 September.

Jobs moved quickly to restore Apple’s image of coolness and nonconformity with the “Think Different” advertising campaign, which featured images of famously creative individuals. On 6 January 1998 Jobs announced that Apple was profitable again. On 6 May 1998 he unveiled Apple’s new iMac, which stood out from the bland, beige, boxy PCs with its translucent curved plastic case and bright blue coloring. The computer went on sale on 15 June and became an instant hit. Apple’s stock reached an all-time high in September 1999, beating the previous record set during the tenure of Jobs’s nemesis John Sculley in 1991.

But Jobs’s greatest triumphs were still to come in the decade of the 2000s, when Apple enjoyed the most spectacular winning streak ever in Silicon Valley. Jobs applied Apple’s mastery of design to a new generation of handheld digital devices that would reshape how people lived and worked. The iPod digital music player, which went on sale in November 2001, would sell more than 300 million units in Jobs’s lifetime. The iTunes Store, which went live in April 2003, would ultimately recruit 200 million customers to entrust their credit card information to Apple so they could make purchases with a touch of a finger. The streak continued with the iPhone, launched in 2007, which brought enviable profit margins from its high prices and Apple’s low-wage manufacturing in China. After Amazon.com released the Kindle tablet e-reader, Jobs initially predicted the device would fail because few people read books. But the Kindle’s early success inspired him to create the successful iPad (2010).

In a stunning reversal, Apple’s stock market value made it worth more than Microsoft—the longtime king of high-tech—in 2010. When Jobs resigned as Apple’s chief executive officer on 24 August 24 2011, Apple’s market value of $348 billion was second only to ExxonMobil. The sole contemporary company that rivaled Apple’s streak of highly successful new products was Jobs’s Pixar, which released a dozen consecutive blockbuster films—an extraordinary run by Hollywood standards. Jobs ultimately sold Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion in 2006.

Jobs had secured his reputation as a legendary business person as well as a visionary of technology. But his final streak of success coincided with his struggle with cancer. He was diagnosed in October 2003 with a pancreatic tumor. Despite the early detection, which meant that the cancer could probably be removed before it spread, Jobs chose not to have surgery since he didn’t want to “open up” his body. He hoped that other approaches—diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies—would prove effective. But the cancer had metastasized into his liver by July 2004, when he relented and underwent surgery. He received a liver transplant in March 2009 and resumed his work at Apple through January 2011, when he took a leave of absence before stepping down from his position in August. When he died at age fifty-six in October in Palo Alto, California, crowds gathered in front of Apple’s stores in New York, San Francisco, and many other cities to lay flowers in tributes more likely for a rock star than a businessman. Steve Jobs had helped lead the digital revolution from the start, and his work transformed not just computing but a slew of major industries: consumer electronics, movies, music, and media.

Bibliography

The Apple collection of Stanford University’s Silicon Valley Archives has six hundred linear feet of materials, including the company’s own archives of documents, photographs, video, hardware, and software. Michael Moritz, The Little Kingdom (1984) provides a fascinating look at Jobs during Apple’s early years, when Moritz was Time’s correspondent in Silicon Valley. The book’s revealing portrait turned Jobs against cooperating with biographers for most of his life. Nonetheless, journalists produced insightful corporate histories such as Randall Stross, Steve Jobs & the Next Big Thing (1993) and Adam Lashinsky, Inside Apple (2012). Jobs telephoned the chief executive officer of Random House in a failed effort to block the publication of The Second Coming of Steve Jobs (2000) by Alan Deutschman, who had covered Jobs as a reporter for Fortune. During the final years of his fatal illness, Jobs ultimately gave interviews for an authorized biography, Steve Jobs (2011) by Walter Isaacson, a prominent journalist and biographer. An obituary appeared in The New York Times, 5 Oct. 2011.