It began as two guys with a garage, an idea, and a few thousand dollars in seed money. Today, 23 years later, Apple Computer Inc. commands a $7.6 billion market value and claims millions of faithful followers. The company’s tumultuous history exemplifies the ups and downs of any Silicon Valley corporation, with its one constant being a penchant for intrigue. Steve Jobs, one of the masterminds behind the company, made headlines when he left Apple in 1985, only to return as interim CEO a dozen years later. His boomerang career continues to be a topic for speculation among Silicon Valley’s analysts and inhabitants.
As the legend goes, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak designed the Apple I computer in Jobs’s bedroom and built the prototype in his garage. Jobs’ initial sales call resulted in an order for 50 units, and the Apple I was sold without a monitor or a keyboard for $666. Despite such humble beginnings, the company’s sales jumped from $7.8 million in 1978 to $117 million in 1980, the year of Apple’s IPO. From 1978 to 1983, Apple’s compound growth rate was over 150 percent a year. Yet these rosy numbers were soon challenged by IBM, which surpassed Apple in dollar sales two years after introducing its PC to the market. Jobs brought John Sculley from PepsiCo onboard as president in 1983, and a year later unveiled the Macintosh on Super Bowl Sunday. Hoping to counter the image of the business-like PC, Jobs marketed the Macintosh as friendly, flexible, and adaptable for creative work. As the ads touted, the Macintosh was the computer “for the rest of us.”
Yet the Macintosh’s success was a peak that shortly plummeted Steve Jobs into exile at Apple Computer. Sculley’s attempts to reduce overhead and control costs brought him head to head with Jobs, who reportedly valued technological elegance over customer needs. By July 1985, Jobs had determined that he would not be a part of Apple’s future and resigned as chairman. He sold over $20 million of his Apple stock, and founded NeXT Software. Jobs also co-founded Pixar, the Academy-Award winning computer animation studio. Pixar’s first feature film, Toy Story, was released by Walt Disney Pictures in November 1995 and became the highest domestic grossing film released that year and the third highest grossing animated film of all time.
But by the end of 1996, rumor had it that Jobs had returned to Apple Computer. Industry analysts questioned both Apple and Jobs’s motives for the reunion. In a press release dated Sept. 16, 1997, Apple’s new Board of Directors formalized the role of Steve Jobs by naming him interim chief executive officer. Jobs had been serving as an advisor to Apple’s executive management team several months prior to the announcement. Apple also spent around $400 million to buy NeXT Software, hoping to fuse NeXT’s powerful operating system with Apple’s flagging Macintosh software.
Most recently, Jobs and Apple have spearheaded a resurgence of success with fruit-colored iMacs, the Mac OS, servers, and peripherals. The tale of Jobs’s Apple, which once had been wrought with lost opportunities and bad fortune, may have a happier ending. Apple is the maker of one of the hottest-selling computers in America, moving product at an unimaginable pace and regaining almost five percentage points of the market share it had lost during Jobs’s absence. No wonder Jobs returned to Apple. No wonder Apple asked him back.
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