Steve Jobs: Biography, Apple Cofounder, Entrepreneur

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1955-2011

Who Was Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs was an American inventor, designer, and entrepreneur who was the cofounder, chief executive, and chairman of Apple Inc. Born in 1955 to two University of Wisconsin graduate students who gave him up for adoption, Jobs was smart but directionless, dropping out of college and experimenting with different pursuits before cofounding Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976. Jobs left the company in 1985, launching Pixar Animation Studios, then returned to Apple more than a decade later. The tech giant’s revolutionary products, which include the iPhone, iPad, and iPod, have dictated the evolution of modern technology. Jobs died in 2011 following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Steven Paul Jobs
BORN: February 24, 1955
DIED: October 5, 2011
BIRTHPLACE: San Francisco, California
SPOUSE: Laurene Powell (1991-2011)
CHILDREN: Lisa, Reed, Erin, and Eve
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Pisces

Steve Jobs’ Parents and Adoption

Steve Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco to Joanne Schieble (later Joanne Simpson) and Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, two University of Wisconsin graduate students. The couple gave up their unnamed son for adoption. As an infant, Jobs was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs and named Steven Paul Jobs. Clara worked as an accountant, and Paul was a Coast Guard veteran and machinist.

Jobs’ biological father, Jandali, was a Syrian political science professor. His biological mother, Schieble, worked as a speech therapist. Shortly after Jobs was placed for adoption, his biological parents married and had another child, Mona Simpson. It was not until Jobs was 27 that he was able to uncover information on his biological parents.

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Early Life and Education

Jobs lived with his adoptive family in Mountain View, California, within the area that would later become known as Silicon Valley. He was curious from childhood, sometimes to his detriment. According to the BBC’s Science Focus magazine, Jobs was taken to the emergency room twice as a toddler—once after sticking a pin into an electrical socket and burning his hand, and another time because he had ingested poison. His mother Clara had taught him to read by the time he started kindergarten.

As a boy, Jobs and his father worked on electronics in the family garage. Paul showed his son how to take apart and reconstruct electronics, a hobby that instilled confidence, tenacity, and mechanical prowess in young Jobs.

Although Jobs was always an intelligent and innovative thinker, his youth was riddled with frustrations over formal schooling. Jobs was a prankster in elementary school due to boredom, and his fourth-grade teacher needed to bribe him to study. Jobs tested so well, however, that administrators wanted to skip him ahead to high school—a proposal that his parents declined.

While attending Homestead High School, Jobs joined the Explorer’s Club at Hewlett-Packard. It was there that he saw a computer for the first time. He even picked up a summer job with HP after calling company cofounder Bill Hewlett to ask for parts for a frequency counter he was building. It was at HP that a teenaged Jobs met he met his future partner and cofounder of Apple Computer Steve Wozniak, who was attending the University of California, Berkeley.

After high school, Jobs enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Lacking direction, he withdrew from college after six months and spent the next year and a half dropping in on creative classes at the school. Jobs later recounted how one course in calligraphy developed his love of typography.

In 1974, Jobs took a position as a video game designer with Atari. Several months later, he left the company to find spiritual enlightenment in India, traveling further and experimenting with psychedelic drugs.

Founding and Leaving Apple Computer Inc.

In 1976, when Jobs was just 21, he and Wozniak started Apple Computer Inc. in the Jobs’ family garage. Jobs sold his Volkswagen bus and Wozniak his beloved scientific calculator to fund their entrepreneurial venture. Through Apple, the men are credited with revolutionizing the computer industry by democratizing the technology and making machines smaller, cheaper, intuitive, and accessible to everyday consumers.

Wozniak conceived of a series of user-friendly personal computers, and—with Jobs in charge of marketing—Apple initially marketed the computers for $666.66 each. The Apple I earned the corporation around $774,000. Three years after the release of Apple’s second model, the Apple II, the company’s sales increased exponentially to $139 million.

In 1980, Apple Computer became a publicly-traded company, with a market value of $1.2 billion by the end of its first day of trading. However, the next several products from Apple suffered significant design flaws, resulting in recalls and consumer disappointment. IBM suddenly surpassed Apple in sales, and Apple had to compete with an IBM/PC-dominated business world.

steve jobs john sculley and steve wozniak smile behind an apple computer

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Steve Jobs, Apple CEO John Sculley, and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak unveil a new computer in 1984.

Jobs looked to marketing expert John Sculley of Pepsi-Cola to take over the role of CEO for Apple in 1983. The next year, Apple released the Macintosh, marketing the computer as a piece of a counterculture lifestyle: romantic, youthful, creative. But despite positive sales and performance superior to IBM’s PCs, the Macintosh was still not IBM-compatible.

Sculley believed Jobs was hurting Apple, and the company’s executives began to phase him out. Not actually having had an official title with the company he cofounded, Jobs was pushed into a more marginalized position and left Apple in 1985.

Creating NeXT

After leaving Apple in 1985, Jobs personally invested $12 million to begin a new hardware and software enterprise called NeXT Inc. The company introduced its first computer in 1988, with Jobs hoping it would appeal to universities and researchers. But with a base price of $6,500, the machine was far out of the range of most potential buyers.

The company’s operating system NeXTSTEP fared better, with programmers using it to develop video games like Quake and Doom. Tim Berners-Lee, who created the first web browser, used an NeXT computer. However, the company struggled to appeal to mainstream America, and Apple eventually bought the company in 1996 for $429 million.

Steve Jobs and Pixar

In 1986, Jobs purchased an animation company from George Lucas, which later became Pixar Animation Studios. Believing in Pixar’s potential, Jobs initially invested $50 million of his own money in the company.

The studio went on to produce wildly popular movies such as Toy Story (1995), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), and Up (2009). Pixar merged with Disney in 2006, which made Jobs the largest shareholder of Disney. As of June 2022, Pixar films had collectively grossed $14.7 billion at the global box office.

Returning to and Reinventing Apple

In 1997, Jobs returned to his post as Apple’s CEO. Just as Jobs instigated Apple’s success in the 1970s, he is credited with revitalizing the company in the 1990s.

With a new management team, altered stock options, and a self-imposed annual salary of $1 a year, Jobs put Apple back on track. Jobs’ ingenious products like the iMac, effective branding campaigns, and stylish designs caught the attention of consumers once again.

steve jobs smiling for a picture while holding an iphone with his right hand

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Steve Jobs holds up the first iPhone at a launch event in September 2007.

In the ensuing years, Apple introduced such revolutionary products as the Macbook Air, iPod, and iPhone, all of which dictated the evolution of technology. Almost immediately after Apple released a new product, competitors scrambled to produce comparable technologies. To mark its expanded product offerings, the company officially rebranded as Apple Inc. in 2007.

Apple’s quarterly reports improved significantly that year: Stocks were worth $199.99 a share—a record-breaking number at that time—and the company boasted a staggering $1.58 billion profit, an $18 billion surplus in the bank, and zero debt.

In 2008, fueled by iTunes and iPod sales, Apple became the second-biggest music retailer in America behind Walmart. Apple has also been ranked No. 1 on Fortune’s list of America’s Most Admired Companies, as well as No. 1 among Fortune 500 companies for returns to shareholders.

Apple has released dozens of versions of the iPhone since its 2007 debut. In February 2023, an unwrapped first generation phone sold at auction for more than $63,000.

Net Worth

According to Forbes, Jobs’ net worth peaked at $8.3 billion shortly before he died in 2011. Celebrity Net Worth estimates it was as high as $10.2 billion.

Apple hit a market capitalization of $3 trillion in January 2022, meaning Jobs’ initial stake in the company from 1980 would have been worth about $330 billion—enough to comfortably make him the richest person in the world over Tesla founder Elon Musk had he been alive. But according to the New York Post, Jobs sold off all but one of his Apple shares when he left the company in 1985.

Most of Jobs’ net worth came from a roughly 8 percent share in Disney he acquired when he sold Pixar in 2006. Based on Disney’s 2022 value, that share—which he passed onto his wife—is worth $22 billion.

Wife and Children

steve jobs and wife laurene embracing while smiling for a photograph

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Steve Jobs and his wife, Laurene, appear on the red carpet at the 2010 Academy Awards.

Jobs and Laurene Powell married on March 18, 1991. The pair met in the early 1990s at Stanford business school, where Powell was an MBA student. They lived together in Palo Alto with their three children: Reed (born September 22, 1991), Erin (born August 19, 1995), and Eve (born July 9, 1998).

Jobs also fathered a daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, with girlfriend Chrisann Brennan on May 17, 1978, when he was 23. He denied paternity of his daughter in court documents, claiming he was sterile. In her memoir Small Fry, Lisa wrote DNA tests revealed that she and Jobs were a match in 1980, and he was required to begin making paternity payments to her financially struggling mother. Jobs didn’t initiate a relationship with his daughter until she was 7 years old. When she was a teenager, Lisa came to live with her father. In 2011, Jobs said, “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, such as getting my girlfriend pregnant when I was 23 and the way I handled that.”

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis and Health Challenges

In 2003, Jobs discovered that he had a neuroendocrine tumor, a rare but operable form of pancreatic cancer. Instead of immediately opting for surgery, Jobs chose to alter his pesco-vegetarian diet while weighing Eastern treatment options.

For nine months, Jobs postponed surgery, making Apple’s board of directors nervous. Executives feared that shareholders would pull their stock if word got out that the CEO was ill. But in the end, Jobs’ confidentiality took precedence over shareholder disclosure.

In 2004, Jobs had successful surgery to remove the pancreatic tumor. True to form, Jobs disclosed little about his health in subsequent years.

Early in 2009, reports circulated about Jobs’ weight loss, some predicting his health issues had returned, which included a liver transplant. Jobs responded to these concerns by stating he was dealing with a hormone imbalance. Days later, he went on a six-month leave of absence.

In an email message to employees, Jobs said his “health-related issues are more complex” than he thought, then named Tim Cook, Apple’s then–chief operating officer, as “responsible for Apple’s day-today operations.”

After nearly a year out of the spotlight, Jobs delivered a keynote address at an invite-only Apple event on September 9, 2009. He continued to serve as master of ceremonies, which included the unveiling of the iPad, throughout much of 2010.

In January 2011, Jobs announced he was going on medical leave. In August, he resigned as CEO of Apple, handing the reins to Cook.

Death and Last Words

Jobs died at age 56 in his home in Palo Alto, California, on October 5, 2011. His official cause of death was listed as respiratory arrest related to his years-long battle with pancreatic cancer.

The New York Times reported that in his final weeks, Jobs had become so weak that he struggled to walk up the stairs in his home. Still, he was able to say goodbye to some of his longtime colleagues, including Disney CEO Bob Iger; speak with his biographer; and offer advice to Apple executives about the unveiling of the iPhone 4S.

In a eulogy for Jobs, sister Mona Simpson wrote that just before dying, Jobs looked for a long time at his sister, Patty, then his wife and children, then past them, and said his last words: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

flowers notes and apples rest in front of a photograph of steve jobs

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Fans left flowers, notes, and apples to memorialize Steve Jobs outside an Apple store in London following his death on October 5, 2011.

Jobs’ closest family and friends remembered him at a small gathering, then on October 16, a funeral for Jobs was held on the campus of Stanford University. Notable attendees included Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates; singer Joan Baez, who once dated Jobs; former Vice President Al Gore; actor Tim Allen; and News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Jobs is buried in an unmarked grave at Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto. Upon the release of the 2015 film Steve Jobs, fans traveled to the cemetery to find the site. Because the cemetery is not allowed to disclose the grave’s location, many left messages for Jobs in a memorial book instead.

Movies and Book about Steve Jobs

Before his death, Jobs granted author and journalist Walter Isaacson permission to write his official biography. Jobs sat for more than 40 interviews with the Isaacson, who also talked to more than 100 of Jobs’ family, friends, and colleagues. Initially scheduled for a November 2011 release date, Steve Jobs hit shelves on October 24, just 19 days after Jobs died.

Jobs’ life has been the subject of two major films. The first, released in 2013, was simply titled Jobs and starred Ashton Kutcher as Jobs and Josh Gad as Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak. Wozniak told The Verge in 2013 he was approached about working on the film but couldn’t because, “I read a script as far as I could stomach it and felt it was crap.” Although he praised the casting, he told Gizmodo he felt his and Jobs’ personalities were inaccurately portrayed.

Instead, Wozniak worked with Sony Pictures on the second film, Steve Jobs, that was adapted from Isaacson’s biography and released in 2015. It starred Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Wozniak. Fassbender was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and co-star Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Apple and NeXT marketing executive Joanna Hoffman.

In 2015, filmmaker Alex Gibney examined Jobs’ life and legacy in the documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.

Quotes

  • Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world? [Jobs inviting an executive to join Apple]
  • It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy.
  • In my perspective… science and computer science is a liberal art. It’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life.
  • It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.
  • There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love—‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been’—and we’ve always tried to do that at Apple.
  • You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.
  • I think humans are basically tool builders, and the computer is the most remarkable tool we’ve ever built.
  • You just make the best product you can, and you don’t put it out until you feel it’s right.
  • With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.
  • Things don’t have to change the world to be important.
  • I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.
  • If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away.
  • Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful—that’s what matters to me.
  • I like to believe there’s an afterlife. I like to believe the accumulated wisdom doesn’t just disappear when you die, but somehow, it endures. But maybe it’s just like an on/off switch and click—and you’re gone. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like putting on/off switches on Apple devices.

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