Bittersweet Legacy : Jobs’ Departure From Apple End of an Era

Times Staff Writer

It’s been said about Steven P. Jobs that he would have made a good king of France. It’s too bad the position has been eliminated, because the 30-year-old co-founder of Apple Computer is suddenly available.

Jobs’ bitter resignation Tuesday from the chairmanship of Apple marks the unofficial end of a brief era of technology in which the mercurial young entrepreneur--perhaps more than anyone else--managed to personalize the computer, make it affordable and persuade millions of ordinary folks that they needed it.

The rich tale of Apple Computer, founded in 1976 by loner Jobs and his nerdy high school chum, Stephen Wozniak, has become as familiar to baby boomers as Horatio Alger stories were to an earlier generation. And Apple’s overnight transformation into a $2-billion company that couldn’t be properly managed by a computer hacker or a temperamental marketing genius is a classic example of the metamorphosis of a business.

Through it all strode Jobs, a complex college dropout variously described as brilliant, arrogant, private, egotistical and an extraordinary pitchman who was totally consumed by his creation. He is said to command an almost religious devotion among the youthful electronic zealots who developed the computers that, in what might have been Jobs’ niftiest idea of all, were called Apple.

The Apple label somehow managed to link the computer--a cold and fearsome machine in the minds of many--to such Woodstock-generation values as environmentalism, friendliness and other non-threatening and distinctly non-corporate ideas.


“History may record that this was Jobs’ most important contribution to Apple: his dead-eye accuracy at understanding precisely what his generation thought of itself and then playing that tune in perfect pitch,” writes author Michael S. Malone in “The Big Score,” a recent history of Silicon Valley, the high-technology center south of San Francisco.

The adopted son of a machinist, Jobs grew up in what was becoming the Silicon Valley and attended high school in Cupertino. With Wozniak and others, he tinkered with electronics and, among other things, made a device that enabled phone users to bypass Ma Bell and make free long-distance calls. He later dropped out of Reed College in Oregon, flirted with Far Eastern religions, worked for Atari and tried communal living and vegetarianism.

Second-Rate Technician

In 1975, while working for Atari, the company that pioneered video games, he frequented meetings of the local Homebrew Computer Club. Wozniak, who had quit UC Berkeley, was a serious club member who was developing a computer that was to become the Apple I.

By most accounts a second-rate technician, Jobs knew a good idea when he saw it, and the seed for Apple was planted. And it was to become a press agent’s dream that the new partners financed the prototype of their new computer with proceeds from the sale of Jobs’ Volkswagen bus, the unofficial vehicle of the “flower children.”

They began calling on venture capitalists and approached Regis McKenna, a powerful Silicon Valley public relations man, for help. McKenna made the most of the entrepreneurs’ unlikely backgrounds, and Jobs’ beard, sandals and blue jeans became part of the rapidly evolving Apple image. Later in his book, “The Regis Touch:” McKenna recounted:

“The environment was perfect for Apple. . . . America was beginning to look upon entrepreneurs as the saviors of American capitalism, so Apple played up the rags-to-riches story of its dynamic founders. . . . Time and again, Apple public relations people told the story of the two Steves working late at night in their garage. Apple stressed the fun and potential of the new technology.”

Wozniak’s was largely a technical role. He has left the company twice, and, after his latest departure in March, started a company called Cloud Nine to make a remote-control device.

Jobs, on the other hand, led Apple on its dizzying path to success. Faster than any company before it, Apple cracked the Fortune 500 within five years. Largely on the strength of its Apple II computer, the company in December, 1980, went public in one of Wall Street’s most successful new stock offerings. It raised $1 billion--the stock price started the day at $12 and ended it at $20--and about 100 millionaires were instantly created. Jobs himself was suddenly worth about $150 million.

Those in and out of the company credit Jobs’ sheer energy with driving the company during this period. He preached the computer gospel to young people, gave away thousands of Apples to schools, turned his product ideas into reality and massaged the news media and other chroniclers of the Apple phenomenon. Sometimes, however, he didn’t like the results.

Michael Moritz, then a Time magazine writer, persuaded Jobs to give him routine access to Apple’s people and meetings for a book on the company. In the middle of the research on his book, “The Little Kingdom,” Moritz contributed to a Time story on Jobs that mentioned, among other things, that Apple’s Lisa computer was named after the unmarried Jobs’ daughter.

“He disliked that story. He felt I’d deceived and betrayed him,” Moritz says. “He then said he’d do his utmost to see that nobody helped me out with the book. He’s a complicated man whose motives aren’t always matched by his words. He’s one of these kinetic personalities who’s difficult to capture. Almost everybody has an opinion of Steve Jobs, but very few people know him.”

Damaged Employee Morale

Moritz calls Jobs a man of supreme ego who nonetheless has “an almost infinite ability to change and adapt,” which Moritz said explains his ability to lead the company that he founded for as long as he did.

Jobs’ complexities also turned up in his unevenness as a manager. In 1983, he won praise from the investment community by recruiting a seasoned marketing executive from Pepsico--John Sculley--to be Apple’s president. But during the same period, insiders said, he damaged employee morale by driving a wedge between the Macintosh computer division that he headed and the more profitable but dowdier Apple II unit.

In the end, Jobs couldn’t adapt to being kicked upstairs. A power struggle over the direction of the company last May left him with the chairman’s title but no operating responsibilities. He failed in a reported effort to overthrow Sculley at the time, then further angered the board last week by raiding five talented Apple executives for a new computer venture of his own.

By Wednesday night he was holed up with associates at his sprawling new home in a wooded area behind Stanford University, too busy, he said, to discuss his plans.