Aug. 24, 2011. 6:30 a.m. Tired. I am driving through Cupertino on my way to San Francisco for work. As I approach Apple headquarters along my usual commute, I see an unusual concentration of news vehicles by the wayside. Camera crews are perched atop vaulted platforms in the sky striving for a better vantage point to see something I don’t have the energy to care about. My more pressing concern for this unholy morning hour is the congestion this camera crew spectacle has caused.
8:30 a.m. A train and bus ride later I am finally at work. I put down my things, and unfold the morning’s copy of the Wall Street Journal.
Oh my God. An era has ended. In my hands, the front-page headline shouts, “Steve Jobs Resigns as Apple CEO.” I feel numb as I slowly fall into my office chair.
Steve Jobs is one of the most pivotal figures in American business, and his contributions to technology testify to the resilient entrepreneurial spirit of America. Although it began in 1976, the tech revolution that shook the world began in 1997. In July of that year, Mr. Jobs rejoined Apple, the same company he was ousted from after founding it in 1976 with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, and inherited a firm that had fallen on hard times. Apple’s market share and share price had suffered a precipitous drop after a number of failed experiments that included digital cameras, CD players, speakers, video consoles, television appliances and significant investments that failed. Jobs immediately had an impact, and announced a partnership with Microsoft to release new Mac-compatible versions of the ubiquitous Microsoft Office, as well as commencing the opening of retail stores across the nation.
At the time, the very concept of an Apple Store was met with firm resistance and denunciatory skepticism. It was preposterous nonsense, especially given the economic environment in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble and forecasts of a 3 percent decrease in planned PC purchases. An influential Businessweek article published in May 2001 agreed with that tune, explaining in a headline reading: “Sorry, Steve: Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work.” Similarly, Macworld quoted the president of a growth-strategy firm as saying, “‘It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for them to open retail stores. Apple will turn the lights off within two years and will have a very bad and expensive experience.’”
Six years later, Fortune ran a piece seeking to explain, “How Apple became the best retailer in America.” Today, articles such as “How Steve Jobs and Apple Revolutionized Retail,” and “Apple’s Retail Success Is More Than Magic,” represent a small sampling of the encomium heaped on the results stemming from the visionary’s foresight. Jobs managed to transform a flagging company into one with amazing brand recognition, but perhaps more importantly, into a company with multiple products people thought were cool. The iPod “classic”, iPod touch, iPad, the pervasive music distribution channel iTunes and the iPhone are some examples that come to mind.
Conquering diverse industries, setting new standards for quality and prioritizing the consumer experience all combined to push Apple into the spotlight as a force for change in a variety of markets. In hindsight, the leader’s accomplishments seem like hyperbole. He turned Apple into a hegemonic conglomerate that currently commands a 31 percent market share in the U.S. for music, 57 percent of handset industry operating profits, has sold 130 million e-books, and currently offers more than 100,000 games in its App Store. Such uncommon success demanded an equally uncommon businessman like Mr. Jobs to achieve it.
Steve Jobs himself was known to be a persuasive, abrasive and uncompromising man. He had “the bully factor,” and with that he invented the future. In Friday’s Journal, several stories are recounted exhibiting the Mr. Jobs’ tenacity and determination to get results.
“Mr. Jobs famously browbeat some music industry executives to agree to his terms when he launched the iTunes music store that eventually upended the music industry.” Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes was involved in the iTunes negotiations and had the following to say about Mr. Jobs: “If he thinks that you’re not doing something right, he will tell you why in pretty colorful terms …” However, such candid communication from Apple may conclude with Steve’s departure.
Apple’s cult-like following was had braced for Mr. Jobs’ departure in the years preceding Aug. 24, 2011. An ending has been foreshadowed before, as his health struggles were no secret. As early as Aug. 1, 2004, Steve Jobs had divulged his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the successful operation that stymied it.
Two years later, Jobs looked deathly gaunt, and delivered an unusually small proportion of an Apple keynote presentation and his uncharacteristic performance was described as “listless.” In 2008, Bloomberg accidently published an obituary of Jobs. Later that year, a vice president was announced to be making the keynote address instead of Jobs, who later explained that he was suffering from a “hormone imbalance.” How many times have we had to hold our breaths? Rest easy now, because we do not have to any longer.
While Apple will lack Jobs’ corporeal presence, his specter of success looks to remain for some time to come. Following his letter of resignation, Apple’s stock dropped a mere 0.65 percent Thursday, while the broader Nasdaq dropped nearly 2 percent. Additionally, it appears that Jobs’ heir, Tim Cook, has a viable chance to continue Apple’s success after being groomed for more than seven years. Mr. Cook has been noted to often come to the same conclusions as Steve in many situations, and has been described as a formidable negotiator, much like his predecessor.
While only time will tell whether Mr. Cook will be able to meet challenges once shouldered by Steve, one thing is clear: a golden epoch has ended. However, the imprint of Steve Jobs’ legacy will endure and the Apple will persevere, despite losing a bite.
Andrew Wong is a UCI alumnus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.