It’s hard to register, at first, that a corporate executive has unleashed the volume of grief that has attended Steve Jobs’ passing. The emotion feels today more like when Lady Di or better yet, John Lennon, died, not some CEO of a $350 billion corporation. Jack Welch and Rex Tillerson (who? Exxon Mobil’s CEO) have at one time or another also been top dog at the world’s largest company. But no one will be laying flowers by the door of GE factories or Exxon gas stations when they go.
His accomplishments as business leaders, of course, exceeded what those corporate stewards ever dreamed of. Jobs expanded our understanding of what technology was, and could do—and by extension, what we ordinary tech users could do. He made tech not just accessible but beautiful. He made computers not just calculators but communicators, paintbrushes, film editors, and recording studios. He came back from business failure that would have absolutely crushed most people and turned Pixar, then Apple, to pure gold.
But while Jobs did things on a grander scale than anyone in his generation, he did one thing that every entrepreneur does. He created something. Before there was Endless Loop in Cupertino, there were only orchards. When he died, 35,000 people worked for him directly, and many thousands more thrived in the Apple ecosystem. He left a world filled with sleek, smart machines that people loved—sometimes, almost beyond reason—and that undeniably made life better. The key thing is, neither the jobs nor the machines would be there if not for Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs was a genius, as Jack Welch himself acknowledged at today’s World Business Forum. He was an artist (and looked the part, which helped). At his death, his business was larger than any other. But what really made him larger than any corporate titan of his generation was that he built it from scratch. He was an entrepreneur.