Tech’s Person of the Decade

It has to be Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs


Here’s where Apple was in June 1997, just before Jobs’ return:

Wired cover, June 1997

And here’s where Apple’s been over the last decade, under his leadership:

Apple stock, 2000-2009

The blue line is Apple’s stock value. The other lines are the stock values of the biggest companies viewed as their direct competitors in January 2000. (And the Dow Jones average, to illustrate how well Apple has performed relative to the market as a whole.)

Notice how a share of any of those competitors is worth less (in some cases, much less) today than it was in January 2000 — while a share of AAPL is worth more than 700% more.

That’s not an accident. Apple in the 2000s managed to grow their core business — desktop and laptop computers — while at the same time moving swiftly enough to seize a dominant position in three new businesses that didn’t even exist in 1999: portable music players (iPod), downloadable media (iTunes Music Store), and personal smartphones (iPhone). All of which promise to be enormous businesses in the 2010s and maybe even beyond.

It’s just astounding performance for a company that was widely considered to be on its last legs a little more than ten years ago. (The joke back then was that Apple’s only hope was to become “Snapple” — by selling itself to Sun Microsystems. Today Apple leads the industry; Sun, on the other hand, no longer exists.)

Jobs is not a uniformly admirable leader; he continues, for instance, to lead Apple to restrict the rights of its customers, even as the industry as a whole has begun shifting away from such counterproductive decisions. And not every product he has touched has turned to gold (see: G4 Cube).

But looking at Apple strictly from a business perspective, it’s hard to think of a success story from the 2000s more impressive than the one he engineered there.