Steve Jobs was a life that mattered. To me, and to millions of other people.
My take on his achievements, though, is that Steve was first and foremost a businessman.
In an age where capitalism is increasingly seen as somehow evil or wrong (by people who have never experienced the alternatives), Steve Jobs embodied the entrepreneur. He did not develop the technology that his company sells. What he did was create an environment, provide a vision, focused that vision, and demanded excellence.
When he left the business faltered. When he returned it thrived.
Apple of course is not the only company Steve Jobs led. There is Pixar – different business, same demand for excellence, same results. There is also Next. Not so successful, but same environment – it served as the nexus for OS X and other Apple software design.
Steve mattered because he made design – both software and hardware – the center of Apple technology, not an afterthought. As a result, people – otherwise known as customers in our society – used what Apple provided, under Steve’s leadership, to make their lives better. More enjoyable. More productive.
Apple did it for profit. Just like you and I work for profit.
But in my opinion what Steve did that few others have is that he led. He had a vision, and he stuck to that vision. He was a leader. But a leader of a business driven by a profit motive, a motive that clarified. Steve didn’t do it for the money. He knew the money would come because Apple’s products were just better than anyone else. He built a following because his customers knew that Apple would deliver.
Steve Jobs was a product of a society free enough to let him take ideas, raise capital to support those ideas, and market them in a competitive environment. It was that competitive environment that drove Apple to produce the best it could.
Steve Jobs to me exemplified how an individual can define a business that can change lives simply by delivering product. He could not exist in any other environment. Apple could not exist in any other environment.
I don’t agree with everything that Steve did or said. But I do believe that his life mattered. As a creative, it mattered to me that he produced the products that I use. He mattered to me as a businessman because he defined business leadership. He incubated an environment – tough by any standard – that rewarded excellence and allowed it to pervade the organization. That excellence was reflected in product, which helped me and countless others lead better lives.