Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955, reared by loving parents on the Peninsula, and nurtured by the California counterculture, the serene influence of the valley's oaks and orchards, and a suburbia transformed by Hewlett-Packard and its techs by weekday and garage tinkers on weekends.
He was attractive, self-assured and forward; a merry prankster and showman; a dropout and spiritual seeker. He had a gift for aesthetics, design, and simplicity.
When he saw an opportunity, he grabbed it and brought others into his vision.
His destiny materialized with the 1975 release of the Altair 8800 (a personal computer kit), the formation of the Homebrew Computer Club, and the technical genius of close friend Steve Wozniak. The young Steve Jobs did not hesitate, diving in immediately and totally.
In that remarkable undertaking, he was industrial designer, marketer, spokesperson, and influencer; a person who could make folks believe, or want to believe, even if against their own instincts. But the Apple II was far more than hype, it led a new and transformative industry and the company's record-breaking ascension into the Fortune 500.
But after IBM and the PC clone makers belatedly entered the market, they not only validated personal computers, increasing their acceptance, but came to dominate the industry. Steve Jobs needed another breakthrough to stay at the forefront. And once again, it appeared before him, this time in visits to nearby Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
At PARC, he internalized the significance of the graphical user interface, bit-mapped graphics, fonts, and the mouse. Apple engineers were already implementing some of these concepts in its next-generation, Macintosh division. Steve set out to control, drive and perfect its output for the masses.
In his mission, he had little patience for "bozos" who did not partake of his vision or got in its way. He ran a pirate flag atop the company's Macintosh division. He pressed, pushed, exhausted, enamored, and alienated those around him. But in January 1984, the release of the Macintosh was a spectacular technical accomplishment and revolutionized the industry he had in large part created.
The original Mac, however, was expensive, underpowered, closed in, and not succeeding in the marketplace. And Steve Jobs's vision for solution, clashed with the man he had brought in to run the company, John Sculley. At the bitter end, Steve Jobs was pushed out of the Macintosh division, and he would soon leave the company he had co-founded.
It hurt bad and for a long time, and he would toil out of center stage for a decade. The experience humbled him, and he learned from it. He married, moved from his Woodside mansion into a more modest home in Palo Alto, and raised a family.
He started over with two companies. With NeXt, a startup, he attracted big investors. With Pixar, a purchase from Geoge Lucas, he personally bankrolled its future. In both enterprises, he suffered major and costly missteps in direction. Injections of additional capital did not stop the hemorrhaging. He felt severe pangs of self-doubt and seriously considered ditching both ventures, but in the end, he held on.
Finally he reached beyond his vision of expensive hardware for academics and animation professionals, and he found answers.
At Pixar, it was the singular creative genius of John Lasseter, and what he could create from that expensive hardware. With the release of Toy Story, and a contract in hand for more films with Disney, Steve took Pixar public, and he was suddenly a billionaire.
At NeXt, the answer was Avie Tevanian and the Unix-based software he crafted into applications and which began to find markets. And then, in a most unlikely twist of fate, and with Apple having failed to find a match while on the auction block, CEO Gil Amelio made a momentous 1997 Chirstmastime decision. Apple would buy NeXt, and Steve would return to Cupertino.
The rest is simply history: one brilliant Steve Jobs move after another. First, to stabilize the company, and then, to bring great new products to the market.
In that effort, he ruthlessly pruned, realigned, and simplified; made alliances with former enemies, and created an advertising campaign that brought a dispirited Apple faithful to its feet.
Each step was kept carefully under wraps and woe to the individual, in or outside of the company, who divulged details.
A loose organization with recurring inventory miscalculations, became a smooth running highly efficient outfit under the direction of Tim Cook.
The release of the original (bondi blue) iMac, marked the beginning of an incredibly productive collaboration with Johnathan Ive, a brilliant designer striving for perfection on every physical element of a product, which Steve Jobs could do nothing less than love.
Soon to follow was the NeXt-inspired Mac OS X, iTunes, the Apple retail stores, the iPod, the blockbusters iPhone and iPad, and much, much more.
Apple's influence, value, and acceptance increased by orders of magnitude. Amazingly it edged past Microsoft in market capitalization and then, for good measure, left its arch-rival in the dust on the way to the top of the charts.
All this occurred while he endured serious health challenges. In perhaps his greatest tribute, the company continued to excel even when he was not available.
But for all his trust in his hand-picked company leaders, there was never any doubt about who was to make the key product decisions. Steve Jobs would never allow Apple to get away from him again.
And so, when the Aug 24, 2011 announcement hit the press that he had resigned as CEO in favor of Tim Cook for health reasons, the related news that he would be chairman of the board offered no solace. The underlying implication was clear.
I stopped as much of my consulting work as I could, collected my thoughts, scribbled down notes, reread favorite sources, and cobbled together a lengthy tribute. I posted it on Palo Alto Online three weeks later. http://www.paloaltoonline.com/square/print/index.php?i=3&t=16030
Steve Jobs would leave us in another three weeks.
He was a man of great genius, drive, and focus, and, yes, with imperfections. He changed the way we lived more than once, while bringing joy and wonder to those who became part of his world. He cannot be replaced, and will not soon be forgotten. He influenced me greatly, although I never met him personally, and I miss him.