Steve Jobs Biography

February 24, 1955 California

CEO of Apple, CEO and chairman of Pixar Animation Studios

 Kim Kulish/Corbis.
Jobs, Steve.
© Kim Kulish/Corbis.

Computers had been around long before Steve Jobs entered the field, but his contributions revolutionized the personal-computer industry. As the cofounder of Apple in 1976, Jobs introduced the concept of a small, relatively inexpensive desktop computer that the average person could own and operate. Since that time, Jobs has presided over a number of technological innovations with Apple. He has also made an impact in the field of animated movies as the head of Pixar, the studio responsible for such blockbusters as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo. Jobs headed up yet another innovative success story with Apple's online music shop, iTunes, and with its portable digital music player, iPod. Jobs has a reputation for being intimidating to employees and difficult with peers, but he is also seen as a visionary who dreams big and enjoys taking risks. While not all of his risks have paid off, those that have succeeded have significantly altered the high-tech landscape and paved the way for future advances.

Searching for meaning

Steven Paul Jobs was born in California on February 24, 1955. His parents, unmarried and unable to care for a baby, put him up for adoption. He was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs, who raised him in a northern California community surrounded by apricot orchards and farm country—a community that has since become the center of technological innovation known as Silicon Valley. When Jobs was in the seventh grade, he encountered troubles at school, the victim of bullies. He refused to return to that school, and his parents decided to move to Los Altos. Jobs attended Homestead High School in Cupertino, California, where he had a reputation as a loner and developed a keen interest in technology. During a school field trip to the plant of the Hewlett-Packard computer company in nearby Palo Alto, the concept of a desktop computer attracted Jobs's notice. Later, in pursuit of computer parts for a school project, Jobs went straight to the source, contacting William Hewlett, cofounder of Hewlett-Packard. Jobs got more than just the needed parts; he was also offered a summer job at the company.

"I think Apple has had a good hand in setting the direction for the whole industry now, again. And that's where we like to be."

During his internship at Hewlett-Packard, Jobs met Steve Wozniak (1950–), an electronics whiz who had attended Homestead High School a few years prior. They formed an immediate bond and soon began collaborating on various projects, including a device that would allow users to make free long-distance phone calls. Wozniak supplied the technological know-how, while Jobs dreamed up ways for consumers to use the products they developed. These roles would remain the same years later, when the two men became reacquainted for a new venture. In the meantime, Jobs graduated from high school in 1972 and then enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He dropped out after one semester, but he continued to spend time on campus, searching for life's meaning: he studied philosophy and meditation, experimented with drugs, and became a vegetarian.

Apple bites back

Jobs returned to California in 1974, restless and looking for work. He answered a help-wanted ad in the newspaper and was hired to work for Atari, a video-game manufacturer that had risen to prominence with Pong, a game that today looks extremely primitive but at the time seemed quite high-tech. According to a profile in Time magazine, Jobs's intense personality made him few friends at Atari. "His mind kept going a mile a minute," reported Al Alcorn, the chief engineer at Atari. "The engineers in the lab didn't like him. They thought he was arrogant and brash. Finally, we made an agreement that he come to work late at night." After a short time at Atari, Jobs left to take a trip to India, continuing his quest for spiritual fulfillment. After his return to the United States, Jobs traveled for a time and then got involved with the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975. At meetings for this club, computer enthusiasts would gather to share information and technology. Jobs's friend from Hewlett-Packard, Steve Wozniak, was a member of the club, and in 1975 Wozniak was still working at Hewlett-Packard and trying to build a computer in his spare time.

Steve Jobs in 1984. AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.
Steve Jobs in 1984.
AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.

Jobs, excited by the prospect of building and selling reasonably priced personal computers, teamed up with Wozniak. While Jobs had a decent grasp on the technology, it was Wozniak who brought the brilliant engineering skills to the partnership. Jobs, on the other hand, was the entrepreneur, the person who understood what they would need to get their business off the ground, how the products would be used, and how to market the products to the public. Jobs and Wozniak formed a company, which Jobs named (he told Jay Cocks of Time: "One day I just told everyone that unless they came up with a better name by 5 P.M. , we would go with Apple"), and they released their first product, the Apple I, for the price of $666. At that time, few people outside of computer hobbyists felt the need to own a desktop computer, but Jobs set out to change that. In 1977 Apple released the Apple II computer, which was a huge success and established the model for personal computers that all other companies attempted to imitate. Three years later, Apple's sales reached $139 million. The company then went public, selling shares to those who wished to invest in Apple.

The Man behind the Man: Edwin Catmull

While Edwin Catmull's name may not be as familiar to the average citizen as Steve Jobs's name, his contributions to Pixar have been unparalleled. "Put simply, computer animation and films like Toy Story would have never have happened without Ed Catmull," Jobs told Laura Ackley of Variety. As president and cofounder of Pixar, Catmull provides exceptional leadership, hiring talented people to work for him and continually striving to keep his employees productive and happy. He has also made tremendous technological contributions to the company, developing new and better ways to create computer-animated films. Catmull has received numerous awards, including three Scientific and Technical Engineering Academy Awards, for his work at Pixar.

Born in 1945, Catmull grew up in Utah. His love for animated movies as a child instilled in him a desire to become an animator, but he felt he lacked the drawing skills and instead studied physics and computer science in college. While pursuing a graduate degree (he has a Ph.D. in computer science), Catmull became interested in the relatively new field of computer graphics, a subject that allowed him to merge his interest in computers with his love for art. He was determined to use this new tool to make movies. During this time, in the early 1970s, Catmull made several technological innovations, including the invention of an animation technique called texture mapping, which allows for a more realistic depiction of an object's texture, whether the object is moving or standing still.

In 1974 Catmull moved to New York to work for Alexander Schure, a wealthy supporter of technological advancements whose passion for making computeranimated movies equaled Catmull's. After several years, Catmull decided to move to California and go to work for the computer-graphics division of Lucas-film, the company owned by George Lucas, who was then at work creating the first Star Wars trilogy. At Lucasfilm, Catmull continued to develop new technology to improve computer animation, and he established his reputation for hiring the right people. In spite of the great strides made by Catmull's division, Lucas decided in 1985 that he wanted to sell that segment of his company, and he instructed Catmull to start looking for a buyer. Catmull approached Steve Jobs, who expressed an interest in the division only as a potentially new computer company, not as a movie studio. Disappointed, Catmull kept looking for a buyer who had the same goal he had: to make the first feature film animated completely on the computer.

One year later, Jobs reconsidered and decided to buy Lucasfilm's computer-graphics division. Jobs named the company Pixar after a device invented by Catmull and George Smith, another computergraphics pioneer from Lucasfilm; the Pixar made great strides in increasing the speed of the animation process. Jobs appointed Catmull chief technological officer of Pixar, a position he held until 2001, when he was made president. As a top executive at Pixar, Catmull spent several years presiding over the effort to make the company's (and the world's) first feature-length computer-animated movie. That film, Toy Story, was released in 1995, and while it boasted great technical achievements, audiences connected with the warm, funny story and fully developed characters. The movie was a huge success, paving the way for Pixar's future efforts, each of which boasted more sophisticated technology than the last—and much of that technological development sprang from the mind of Catmull.

In 1979 Jobs oversaw the development of a radically new kind of personal computer, one that required little experience with computers and was the first to incorporate a mouse. Called the Lisa (Local Integrated Systems Architecture), the computer sold for $10,000 when released in 1983, a price that put it out of reach for most consumers. The development of the Lisa did lead to Apple's next great innovation, however—a computer that was not only affordable but also easy to use, a critical factor at a time when most people considered computers intimidating and foreign. The Macintosh, released in 1984, brought personal computing to the masses, with its easily understood graphics and point-and-click mouse. Rather than typing in complicated commands, users could simply click on an icon, or picture, on the screen. Jobs's obsession with developing the product, however, had caused problems at Apple. Many years and much of the company's money had been spent on the product's development, causing many at Apple to wonder whether Jobs had lost sight of the big picture. When Macintosh's initial sales were lower than expected, Jobs was pushed to resign by the company's president and CEO, John Sculley. In 1985 both Jobs and Wozniak left the company they had founded.

To infinity and beyond

While his departing deal with Apple included millions of dollars in severance pay, Jobs, thirty years old at the time, did not consider taking any sort of extended vacation from the high-tech industry. He formed the NeXT Computer Company, releasing his first product in 1988. While the NeXT computer had a number of desirable features—including fast processing speeds and sophisticated graphics and sound—it did not sell well due to its high price and an inability to network with other computers. Jobs then turned his attention to developing new software and improving operating systems, the programs that run all other programs on a computer. During this period, in 1991, Jobs married Laurene Powell; the couple has three children.

In 1986 Jobs bought the computer graphics division of the movie studio Lucasfilm Ltd., which had been formed by George Lucas (1944–), the multitalented filmmaker behind the Star Wars movies. With this new company, renamed Pixar Animation Studios, Jobs set out to create a major animated-movie studio. Pixar began by making commercials and short animated films, many of which won prestigious awards. The animation industry quickly understood that this new kid on the block was doing something quite different and doing it exceptionally well. In 1991 Pixar signed a deal with Disney to develop and distribute feature-length animated movies. Four years later Pixar released its debut film, Toy Story, the first movie to be completely computer animated. A huge success, Toy Story earned more than any other movie that year and came to be one of the most successful animated movies in history. It earned several Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. At that point, looking to concentrate on Pixar, Jobs sold NeXT to his former company, Apple, for $400 million.

The subsequent Pixar animated movies— A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo —continued in the Toy Story vein, hitting it big at the box office and earning the adoration of fans. Toy Story 2 earned the distinction of being the only animated sequel in history to earn more than the original, and it won a Golden Globe Award for Best Picture—Musical or Comedy. Released in 2003, Finding Nemo broke box-office records, earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Film, and sold an astonishing eight million copies on the first day of the DVD release.

During 2003, Jobs and Michael Eisner (1942–), CEO of Disney, began negotiating for a new contract between Disney and Pixar. Ten months later, in early 2004, the two companies ended their negotiations without an agreement and announced the upcoming end to their partnership, which would dissolve after the 2004 release of The Incredibles and the 2005 release of Cars. Jobs had demanded a greater percentage of the films' earnings (under the previous contract, the two companies evenly split the cost of making the films and then divided revenues in half, with Disney getting an additional fee for distributing the movies). Disney refused, and Pixar began its search for a new distribution partner. Taking into account the multibillion-dollar earnings of Pixar's first five films, a number of major studios put in hasty calls to Steve Jobs to talk about a partnership. As Andrew Simons wrote in the Los Angeles Business Journal, "Everyone wants to take Steve Jobs to the big dance."

Coming full circle

When Apple began to struggle in the mid-1990s, Jobs agreed to act as a consultant, offering advice on turning the company around. In 1997 he was named Apple's interim CEO—a position intended to be temporary until a permanent CEO was found. Three years later, a permanent CEO was named: Steve Jobs. After returning to the helm at Apple, Jobs made a number of decisive moves that immediately improved the company's fortunes. He simplified the product line, introduced a new version of the Apple operating system, and entered into a cooperative agreement with Microsoft. In 1998 Jobs introduced the iMac. This computer offered sufficiently powerful processors and an affordable price tag, but the key to its success may have been the PC's streamlined design and array of bright colors. Upon Jobs's return to Apple, the company pioneered a wireless technology called Air-Port, which enables users to surf the Internet and print without having anything plugged into their computers. A number of new products followed, some of which, like the iBook and PowerMac, were extremely successful, and some of which were not—including the G4 Cube, which sported a slick design but an out-of-reach price.

Jobs's endless quest for technological innovation soon led him to tackle the digital music industry. In 2001 Apple launched a sleek new handheld product, a portable digital music player called the iPod. Comparable to MP3 players introduced by other companies, the iPod allowed users to download music from CDs or from online sites. Thanks in part to a memorable advertising campaign and good word-of-mouth, Apple sold three million iPods in less than three years. By 2004, almost half of the digital music players bought by consumers were iPods.

Apple's next move, in 2003, was to open an online music store. The music industry had been in a sales slump, with many concerned that such free file-sharing services as Napster, which allowed users to download songs without paying a penny, would spell doom for CD sales. Soon after legal battles complicated the practice of downloading music for free, Jobs opened the iTunes Music Store. Others had attempted online music sales with little success, failing either because they offered a poor selection or because users rejected the notion of paying a monthly subscription fee to download songs. Jobs's iTunes offered simplicity: with the blessing of the world's major record labels, customers could download any of the two hundred thousand songs for just ninety-nine cents each. Users could then create their own CDs with the downloaded songs or transfer them to a portable digital music player, to take with them wherever they go. While iTunes did not live up to Jobs's high expectations of one hundred million downloads in the first year, it did perform astonishingly well. In the first week, one million songs were downloaded, with the total exceeding fifty million after one year. Many observers cautioned that Apple would have to continue to approach online music sales in a creative and aggressive way: while Apple was an early innovator, a number of major players, including Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and some record labels, soon followed suit, offering stiff competition to iTunes.

Many industry observers have noted that, for all its innovation and creativity, Apple has never become a powerhouse in terms of sales. Apple commands just a small percentage of the personal-computer market and earns a tiny fraction of the revenues of its primary software competitor, Microsoft. Jobs shrugs off such details, however, suggesting that it's more important to him to continually create new, original, high-quality products than to become the leader in PC sales. In an interview for Macworld on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Macintosh, Jobs summarized his point of view: "Apple's market share is bigger than BMW's or Mercedes's or Porsche's [is] in the automotive market. What's wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?"

For More Information


Ackley, Laura A. "Pixar's Deep Talent Pool Lured by Catmull's Vision." Variety (July 20, 1998): p. 32.

Burrows, Peter. "Pixar's Unsung Hero." Business Week (June 30, 2003): p. 68.

Burrows, Peter. "Rock On, iPod." Business Week (June 7, 2004): p. 130.

Cocks, Jay. "The Updated Book of Jobs." Time (January 3, 1983): p. 25.

Hawn, Carleen. "If He's So Smart.... Steve Jobs, Apple, and the Limits of Innovation." Fast Company (January 2004): p. 68.

Quittner, Josh. "Steve Jobs: The Fountain of Fresh Ideas." Time (April 26, 2004): p. 75.

Simons, Andrew. "Studios Anxiously Jockey to Court Pixar As Jobs Patiently Revels in New Control." Los Angeles Business Journal (April 26, 2004): p. 1.

Snell, Jason. "Steve Jobs on the Mac's Twentieth Anniversary." Macworld (February 2004).

Web Sites

Apple. (accessed August 1, 2004).

Pixar. (accessed August 1, 2004).

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