Fortune Names Steve Jobs CEO of the Decade

Steve Jobs (official, 1990s)

Everyone knows that awards and accolades that single out any single person in a complicated event, field, or industry is rife with problems: just ask the Nobel Prize committee or the people responsible for picking Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.” But if nothing else, those laurels are useful for sparking public discussion…and Fortune magazine has probably stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy for its pick for “CEO of the Decade:” Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Jobs has always been surrounded by controversy, from his near-totalitarian effort to create the original Lisa and then Macintosh personal computers and often acidic personality leading to his ouster from Apple Computer in the 1980s. Jobs went on to work on other projects…one of which eventually became the digital animation studio Pixar, and the other of which (NeXT Computers) eventually became the intellectual property Apple bought and leveraged to create Mac OS X—and, in so doing, bringing Jobs back into Apple’s driver’s seat.

Those successes alone would have been enough to rank Jobs as one of the most successful corporate leaders in Silicon Valley, but add to that the industry-rattling successes of the iPod and iTunes (iTunes is now the top music retailer in the U.S.), the mammoth success of the iPhone, Apple’s surprisingly successful go-it-alone retail efforts, the company’s consistently effective marketing moves, and an almost terrifyingly loyal customer base…and you really have a success story unlike anything else in the industry. Plus, Apple’s signature Macintosh keeps on going: Jobs has managed to substantially expand Macintosh market share while transitioning the computers to new platforms not once (to Mac OS X) but twice (to an Intel architecture). And today? Apple is (just barely) worth more than Google.

And during the same period, Jobs endured a liver transplant, survived a rare form of cancer, dodged financial scandal related to back-dating stock options.

No doubt Fortune’s selection will fuel the cult of personality surrounding Jobs, with loyalists lauding the selection while critics and naysayers will point out Jobs’ (many) foibles and questionable decisions. But there’s no denying Apple (and, though now part of Disney, Pixar) have directly and indirectly played a major role in how many people interact with technology and entertainment…and it probably wouldn’t have happened without Jobs.