Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Bio: Career, Leadership, Life and Death

The last words of Steve Jobs were: “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow”. He died as he lived – filled with wonder. He had this magical way of thinking that you could create the reality that you envisioned in your head. That outlook gave him a stunningly successful life. But it may have also contributed to his early death.

Early life

Steve Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco on February 24, 1955. According to a cousin, his birth name was Abdul Lateef Jandali. His father, Abdulfattah al Jandali was born to a well-off Arab family in Syria. His mother Joanne Schieble, a Swiss-German American, was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin where they met.

Steve Jobs’ biological father, Abdul Fattah Jandali, shown here with Joanne Carol Schieble, Jobs’ biological mother, never met his famous son.
Steve Jobs’ biological father, Abdul Fattah Jandali, shown here with Joanne Carol Schieble, Jobs’ biological mother, never met his famous son.

She became pregnant when the two were visiting Abdulfattah’s family in Syria, and she quickly high-tailed it back to California to give birth to Steve. They decided to put the baby up for adoption because they were not married. Initially, they chose a wealthy Catholic family. But the adoption fell through, and the child went to Paul and Clara Jobs.

Paul was a mechanic, Clara an accountant. Neither had gone to university. Before al Jandali would agree to the adoption, the couple had to promise that Steve would get a college education one day.
Steve’s biological parents did eventually marry and had another child, Steve’s sister. The successful novelist, Mona Simpson. She and Steve remained close until his death. But his relationship with his birth parents was virtually non-existent.

He told biographer Walter Isaacson that his biological parents were “They were my sperm and egg bank. That’s not harsh, it’s just the way it was.” He did, however, choose to meet his biological mother “…to thank her, because I’m glad I didn’t end up as an abortion.”

In 1959, the Jobs family moved from San Francisco to Mountain View, California. Mountain View was becoming a center for electronics.

Young Steve began dabbling in electronics but he was far less interested in school. A fourth-grade teacher tried to cure his boredom by reportedly bribing him with candy and $5 of her own bills to get him to finish his schoolwork. It apparently kindled a passion in him for learning. So much so that he skipped fifth grade and went directly to middle school. But life was hard at Crittenden Middle School where he was often bullied.

Jobs gave his parents an ultimatum: either take him out or he would drop out. He ended up going to a better school district when his parents moved to Los Altos in the heart of the emerging Silicon Valley. He attended Homestead high school where a friend introduced him to Steve Wozniak who graduated a few years earlier. They bonded over their love of electronics. Jobs would later found Apple with Wozniak.

When he was still in high school, Jobs cold-called Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard one day to ask for leftover electronic parts. He got the parts and a summer internship. Jobs worked on the assembly line at HP putting nuts and bolts on frequency counters.

After he graduated high school and went to college, he mentioned his HP experience on his application for a campus job – though he misspelled Hewlett-Packard. This job application was not very inspiring. He vaguely lists his address as Reed College.

Transformative years at Reed College

Jobs famously dropped out of the liberal arts school in Oregon after one semester because he didn’t like the required classes. However, he later said his experiences at Reed helped him in everything that he’s ever done. Because after dropping out, he still hung around campus, dropping in on the courses he found interesting, which would help shape the innovator he became.

He took a class in calligraphy where he learned about beautiful fonts and typefaces, about varying spaces between letter combinations. It didn’t appear to have any practical application at the time. But as Jobs would later say: “If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.

Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later.”

His days at college were otherwise spent recycling Coca-Cola bottles for money for food and hitchhiking across town to the local Hare Krishna temple for a free Sunday meal. His diet would become very obsessive later on. He’d eat nothing but fruit and leafy greens which he said prevented his body from forming harmful mucus. And he regularly fasted as a way to cleanse his body.

While at Reed, he also got a part-time gig at the psychology department, repairing equipment used for experiments on pigeons and rats. When he wasn’t at work, he spent long hours at the college library reading about Buddhism.

He told biographer Isaacson that the simplicities of the religion informed his sense of design – apparent not only in Apple’s beautifully simple designs but in his personal life. Jobs was famous for wearing simple black turtlenecks and blue jeans.

During his time in college, he also experimented with psychedelics. He described using LSD as one of the most profound experiences of his life, crediting it with opening up his mind. And the name “Apple” came from visiting an apple farm with another acid tripper from Reed.

While at college, Wozniak paid him a visit. He brought an early prototype of a hacking device that lets users make free international phone calls.

Before long, Steve and Woz were building blue boxes themselves and selling them to their friends which were highly illegal. Making the blue boxes pushed the boundaries of what they could do with technology and would lead them further down the path to Apple.

Atari & the life-changing trip to India

But before then, Jobs started working at Atari, the American video game developer. He was hired in 1974 as a technician after he showed them a version of Pong that they assumed he had created when in fact Wozniak said it was his work.

Jobs were difficult to get along with. But Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell knew Jobs was valuable, once remarking: “he was very often the smartest guy in the room, and he would let people know that.” Jobs’ prickly personality and lack of hygiene are said to have been the reasons he got put on the night shift.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, 1983.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, 1983.

He used to soak his feet in toilet water as a stress reliever when he worked at Apple. But in a Reddit thread, Bushnell mentioned he got Jobs to work overnight because he knew Wozniak would visit him since they were buddies, so: “I’d get two Steves for the price of one.”

It was thanks to Atari that Jobs fulfilled his desire to travel to India. When Atari sent Jobs on a trip to Germany, he convinced the company to give him a one-way ticket, and the rest, he’d take in cash. Then, instead of flying back to California, he flew to India. He wanted to go on a spiritual retreat to find his inner self.

His travel companion was Daniel Kottke, a college friend and later one of the first employees of Apple. India was a life-changing experience for Jobs. He soaked in the culture, wore loose-fitting clothing, and roamed around barefoot – a habit he would later continue around Apple’s offices.

He embraced eastern spirituality, including the precept of intuition. When he traveled to the Indian countryside, he noticed that people didn’t use their intellect like Americans did, but instead relied more on intuition.

He told biographer Isaacson: “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.” It was intuition that helped him understand what customers wanted when he went on to develop Apple’s products.

Starting Apple

He returned home from India with a shaved head and a powerful intuition that prompted him to start Apple with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976. Wayne acted more like the adult supervisor to the younger Wozniak and Jobs, who were still in their twenties. But he left after less than two weeks, selling his 10% stake for $800. That – by the way – is worth billions today!

Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.
Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

The company’s headquarters was the garage of Jobs’ parents. That’s where they built Apple’s first computer, the Apple 1 with the help of Jobs’ India travel buddy, Kottke.

It wasn’t anything like the computers of today. It had no keyboard or screen and served more as part of a kit that computer hobbyists could build into something more useful. The owner of this unit added a keyboard and case afterward.

Woz coded while Jobs spent hours on the phone trying to find investors. He managed to convince a former Intel executive to put up some cash, allowing them to produce 200 Apple Ones. Wozniak continued to mold it into something better and the following year, they unveiled the Apple II – a personal computer aimed at the consumer market.

It could be taken home, plugged in, and used. The Apple II became the symbol of the personal computing revolution.

Over the next three years, Apple’s annual sales ballooned from $775,000 to $118 million and so did Jobs’ net worth. But not everything the company did was a hit. The Apple III and Lisa were flops.

The Lisa computer, launched in 1983, was named after Jobs’ child. He wasn’t happy when his high school sweetheart Chrisann Brennan became pregnant and denied he was the father for years. He refused to admit the Apple computer was named after Lisa for the longest time and chalked it up to coincidence, saying LISA stood for Local Integrated Software Architecture.

A DNA test proved he was the father. Decades later, he confessed to Isaacson: “Obviously, it was named for my daughter.” He may have changed the world but Jobs failed in ordinary ways, like being a father to Lisa. They had a strained relationship. Lisa would later say, ‘Clearly I was not compelling enough for my father’.

lisa
Father and daughter in 1989, when Lisa was 10.

As for the computer that carried her name, the failure would be forgotten when Apple launched the Macintosh in 1984 during the Super Bowl in this now-famous commercial.

On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.

And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” That’s a reference to George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel.

The estate of Orwell sent a cease-and-desist order to Apple and the commercial never aired again. And, as it turned out, the Mac would cost Jobs more than public embarrassment. It would cost him his job.

Fired from Apple

He was in charge of the MacIntosh division and when the expensive original version didn’t sell as well as he expected, he told CEO John Scully to lower the price and spend more on advertising. Scully didn’t think it had anything to do with the price or advertising.

He went to Apple’s Board of Directors, which sided with him, and got Jobs ousted as head of the Macintosh division and stripped him of all of his executive duties. Jobs was forced out of Apple.

When he resigned, he took five employees with him to form a new company. NeXT specialized in computers aimed at the higher education market.

Brilliance at Pixar

In 1986, he also invested some of his wealth by acquiring the computer graphics division of George Lucas’ special effects company, renamed Pixar. He later sold it to Disney for $7.4 billion in stock.

He was Pixar’s CEO when it produced Toy Story, the first feature-length film entirely created in 3D animation. The main character, Woody, had evolved into a jerk, mainly because of script changes by Disney. Jobs fought back to make Woody into a likable character.

This demonstrated his ability to rework something that he thought wasn’t perfect. He told Issacson, “If something isn’t right, you can’t just ignore it and say you’ll fix it later. That’s what other companies do.” Unfortunately, Jobs didn’t take this to heart when it came to his own health, which worsened when he took on more work.

Return to Apple

At the time that Toy Story became a monumental success, Apple was in a financial mess. In 1997, it was 90 days away from bankruptcy because it failed to innovate. Apple desperately needed a new, modern operating system and in a remarkable turn of events, bought NeXT for $400 million. The NeXT operating system paved the way for OS X – later renamed macOS.

Jobs returned to Apple as CEO, while continuing to lead Pixar. With Jobs in the driver’s seat, Apple was about to go in a different direction. He worked closely with designer Jony Ive to develop stunning new products: the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Apple wanted to let the world know it was different from other companies. It came up with the “Think Different” advertising campaign in response to IBM’s “Think” slogan. IBM was at the time considered the top of the PC line. “Think Different” doesn’t make sense grammatically but Jobs insisted “Think Differently” would not have the same effect.

Apple Think different Logo
Apple Think different Logo

This is one of the Think Different commercials. “Here’s to the crazy ones.” This commercial was crucial in turning around Apple. The original version was actually voiced by Jobs. “The round pegs in the square holes.” It never aired because he hated his version and let it be known. There was a side of him that could be nasty according to those who worked with him.

Rob Siltanen, a creative director on the Think Different campaign, later wrote in a Forbes Magazine article, “I must say I saw and experienced his tongue lashings and ballistic temper firsthand.” Jobs attributed his angry outbursts to perfectionism. He was such a perfectionist he had trouble buying furniture – his home was only furnished with the bare essentials. His temper was in sharp contrast to his public image as a warm and loving family man.

He met his wife, Laurene Powell when she was an MBA student at Stanford where he gave a lecture in 1989. They married two years later and had three children together.

Introducing the iPod and iPhone

Despite his difficult personality, employees concede that there’s no way Apple could have completely turned around its business without Jobs. And his genius continued to flourish. “There it is, right there.”

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone that was introduced at Macworld on January 9, 2007 in San Francisco, California.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone that was introduced at Macworld on January 9, 2007 in San Francisco, California.

In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod which changed not only how we listen to music but the entire music industry. And in 2007, he took to the stage to announce the most successful product launch to date. “An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone…are you getting it?

These are not 3 separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”

Health problems

The future seemed without limits, but Jobs had already begun to have health problems.

He traced it back to the brutal demands of running two companies at the same time, telling Isaacson, “It was rough, really rough, the worst time in my life. I had a young family. I had Pixar. I would go to work at 7 a.m. and I’d get back at 9 at night, and the kids would be in bed. And I couldn’t speak, I literally couldn’t, I was so exhausted. I couldn’t speak to Laurene. All I could do was watch a half-hour of TV and vegetate. It got close to killing me.”

He started to get kidney stones. When Jobs had a cat scan for kidney stones one day in 2003, doctors saw a shadow on his pancreas. It turned out to be a neuroendocrine tumor, a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is often treatable with surgery.

Unlike the common form of pancreatic cancer, survival is measured in years if not decades. But according to Isaacson, he refused to undergo surgery for nine months, and later regretted his decision as his health declined. Jobs initially opted for alternative treatments such as acupuncture, dietary supplements, and juices instead of potentially life-saving surgery.

Why? Because he thought he could bend reality to his will. It worked for him at Apple.

Employees often joked that Jobs would distort reality to achieve his goals. Like the time when he asked Apple engineer Larry Kenyon to reduce the boot time of the Macintosh by 10 seconds. Kenyon said it was impossible, but Jobs didn’t care, telling him to find a way. As Isaacson recounted, Jobs said: “If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?”

A few weeks later, Kenyon reduced the boot time by 28 seconds. So Jobs willed the impossible possible.

In the same way, when it came to his health, he ignored reality and wanted to bend reality to his liking. Isaacson gave his thoughts to CBS: “I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something if you don’t want something to exist, you can have magical thinking. And it had worked for him in the past.”

As his condition worsened, he had part of his pancreas removed which bought him some time but wasn’t enough to eradicate the disease.

Resignation from Apple and legacy

In January 2009, he took a six-month medical leave of absence to focus on his health. That April, he had a liver transplant.

Tim Cook became acting CEO of Apple, with Jobs still involved with major strategic decisions. For the next two years, he continued working off and on.

Then on August 24, 2011, he resigned as CEO in this letter made public on Apple’s website: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs

Jobs became chairman of the Board and continued to work for Apple reportedly until the day before he died.

On October 5, 2011, around 3 pm Pacific Time, he passed away surrounded by his family at his Palo Alto home. He was 56 years old.

Jobs once said: Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Jobs had a small, private funeral but he was mourned around the world like the passing of a rock star. He was buried in an unmarked grave – at his own request – at Alta Mesa Memorial Park in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Reflecting on his life, when he had to build his way back up again after getting fired from the company he started, he said: “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.

And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.

As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. Steve Jobs believed that his intuition and curiosity would guide him down the right path.

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