When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, one of the first orders of business was to go on stage at MacWorld and thank Microsoft and Bill Gates for investing $150 million in the floundering computer maker, which was on the verge of bankruptcy. When Jobs announced that Apple was forming a five-year partnership with Microsoft, a series of pained groans and boos emerged from the audience. Perhaps worst of all for Jobs: He was forced to share the stage with Gates, who loomed over him in the form of a giant video screen.
It looked like the lowest point for Apple, and many wondered if Jobs was the right person to save the company from bankruptcy. It turns out that Jobs was not only the right person he was also the "CEO of the Decade," according to Fortune Magazine.
It's easy to see why the publication selected Jobs. The article recounts his numerous triumphs over the past 10 years, though some of the groundwork for Jobs' success was laid in the late 1990s. When Jobs returned to Apple after being ousted from the company in 1985, few people could have predicted the triumphs both the man and the company would enjoy in the 2000s.
Apple's renaissance began in earnest in 2001. The company launched its own line of retail stores, followed by the release of a new operating system that turned heads and updated computer models that suddenly became fashionable again. And then Apple introduced a sleek, nifty gadget called the iPod. It was all part of Jobs' vision.
After 2001, the decade is almost a blur for Apple. A flood of "digital lifestyle" products with funky designs and high price tags hit the market one after the other, and Apple's sales and market cap saw a meteoric rise. The company became a branding powerhouse with its catchy iPod and iPhone ads and, of course, the memorable Mac television spots.
During that time, Jobs became an iconic business figure, one who transcends the industry. Despite his legendary temper and at-times surly attitude, Apple's chief never seemed to sweat in the spotlight.
Whether it was misleading the media about his health issues or sidestepping questions about his eye-popping compensation or backdated stock options, Jobs always appeared to be in total control as a leader. When he announced a six-month leave of absence and received a liver transplant earlier this year, Apple fans and stockholders teetered on the edge of their seats with every rumor, message board post and errant obituary about their beloved CEO.
Jobs, of course, did not die. He returned to Apple this summer. And his company is stronger than ever. Apple has enjoyed market-share gains with its computer lines, and the iPod is by far the best-selling digital audio player on the market. Then there's the thriving music and movie download store iTunes. And let's not forget the iPhone, which could become the company's most popular and influential product yet.
With his health on the rebound and Apple enjoying a $174 billion market cap, it's likely Jobs will be competing for Fortune's "CEO of the Decade" award in another 10 years.