How does Steve Jobs stack up with history’s other great entrepreneurs?

“First and foremost, Steve Jobs is an entrepreneur. And that is how history will long remember him. Not primarily as a fiduciary or an institution builder or an administrator (though he has worn all those hats), but rather as an individual who relentlessly pursued new opportunities,” Nancy F. Koehn, a historian at the Harvard Business School, writes for Fortune.

“Over and over again he has turned his eye and his energy — and at times, it has seemed, his entire being — to what might be gained by creating a new offering or taking an unorthodox strategic path,” Koehn writes. “That puts him in the company of other great entrepreneurs of the past two centuries, men and women such as Josiah Wedgwood, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Estée Lauder.”

Koehn writes, “Each of these people — and especially Steve Jobs — has been defined by the intense drive, unflagging curiosity, and keen commercial imagination that have allowed them to see products and industries and possibilities that might be. Each of these individuals has also been extremely hardworking, demanding of themselves and others. All have been compelled more by the significance of their own vision than by their doubts.”

Koehn writes, “More than 15 years ago, before most of us e-mailed regularly or had added the word ‘playlist’ to our vocabulary, Jobs sketched out his vision of the Information Revolution’s impact to RollingStone: ‘Putting the Internet into people’s houses is going to be really what the information superhighway is all about, not digital convergence in the set-top box.’ And this development, in tandem with vast increases in computing power, meant for Jobs that the world is ‘clearly a better place. Individuals can now do things that only large groups of people with lots of money could do before. What that means is, we have much more opportunity for people to get to the marketplace — not just the marketplace of commerce but the marketplace of ideas. The marketplace of publications, the marketplace of public policy. You name it.'”

“If Jobs is right about the ways in which the Information Revolution both empowers individuals and democratizes existing power structures — and the jury is still out on this — his historical legacy may indeed be greater than his impact on business,” Koehn writes. “It may just bear some resemblance to [one of Jobs’ heroes], Mohandas Gandhi, who staged another kind of peaceful and far-reaching revolution some 70 years ago and who saw opportunity where others saw only obstacles.”

There’s much more in the full article – recommended – here.


  1. Interesting article. There are so many superlatives that this man has been given. Yet, it seems not enough. I truly admire is passion and attention to the minutest details.

  2. Actually, you only need to read some of Steve’s old interviews, like the one in Rolling Stone, to see how brilliant his predictions have been. Bill Gates, by comparison, is the anti-Nostradamus, in his interviews. He’s almost always wrong about the future of technology, until it becomes so obvious that even he can’t miss being right.

  3. Interesting observation. Yet, the fawning pundits would react and praise every word.

    There is however one thing for which I’ll credit Mr. Gates: his vision of having a computer on every desk. He was right on that point. Another thing for which I will credit Mr. Gates has nothing to do with computing. Rather his foundation may eventually be his true legacy. As an operation, it is pretty efficient. They do appear to be making good decisions on how to invest in areas such as malaria treatment, improvements in providing potable water to impoverished areas of the world, and other pursuits.

    But his legacy with Windows and some deep ethical lapses show another side to Bill Gates altogether. It’s funny how some of the largest of robber barons made good and enabled history to be kind based on philanthropy.

    Steve Jobs has been chided for being stingy with what he has earned. But my hunch is that we don’t know the real story. We may find eventually that he had quietly contributed a significant fortune anonymously, preferring to not take credit for what he had done.

  4. “There is however one thing for which I’ll credit Mr. Gates: his vision of having a computer on every desk.”

    For the most part, this isn’t exactly result of his vision; his prediction of a computer on every desk was more of a corporate goal for Microsoft — “I’m going to try and sell MS-DOS (or Windows) to EVERY person on this planet, as outlandish as the concept may seem to anyone now.

    In other words, Gates wasn’t thinking about the rapid pace of technological development enabling equally rapid decline in prices of computing hardware enabling more and more people to actually buy these. He was just thinking, “I’ve got a product and if I want to succeed in my business, I must figure out how to sell this product to as many people as I can”. His statement was more of a cocky boasting than visionary prediction.

  5. @KenC
    You have credited Gates for ‘having a computer on every desk,’ I’d contend, it was Jobs and Woz who truly envisioned personal computers in the face of IBMs mainframe vision of the future. Go ahead, think on that for a minute… wiki might help.

  6. “Steve Jobs was not the most considerate individual at Apple, and he had lots of ways to demonstrate that. One of the most obvious was his habit of parking in the handicapped spot of the parking lot – he seemed to think that the blue wheelchair symbol meant that the spot was reserved for the chairman.

    Whenever you saw a big Mercedes parked in a handicapped space, you could be sure that it was Steve’s car (actually, it was hard to be sure otherwise, since he also had a habit of removing his license plates). This sometimes caused him trouble, since unknown parties would occasionally retaliate by scratching the car with their keys. “

  7. Bill Gates is the quintessential ruthless businessman. He never has been, nor will he ever be, a visionary like Steve Jobs.

    Those who criticize Steve’s personal flaws are totally missing the point. Everybody has problems, but very few people have the kind of vision that Steve Jobs has demonstrated again and again.

  8. I wouldnt call Gates a visionary – especially if you examine his methods. He’s nothing more than a low-ball door-to-door salesman who only believes everyone should have a desktop to increase his profits – not to utilize technology to its fullest potential. His games of ‘follow the leader’ (then stab them in the back) and ‘copycat’ resemble no visionaries I know of – he brings nothing to the table. I hear people commend him – but a super fantastic salesman – is still no visionary – because his ideas are still those of a salesman. Putting Windows on cheap PCs (while cutthroating your competition) doesnt take a genius to see why that would work. Reinventing a Creative Jukebox into a way better product with an (hardware, software, media) ecosystem around it – takes vision. Gates=0 Jobs=10 Game Over.

  9. @KenC,
    At least in my field–education–the Gates foundation has wasted tens of millions of $$ on worthless schemes. Not ill-intentioned, of course, just ill-informed. It is tough to do things right in education, because most education “experts” are snake oil salesmen. But there are knowledgeable individuals, as well as a real research base, and Gates didn’t rely on either.
    OTOH, I’ve heard his malaria initiative has done a lot of good, so he deserves credit for that.

  10. The article only focused on his return to Apple. What about his first run at Apple, the ][ and Mac. Pixar and how it change animation. Even NeXT had a impact on what we do now do with our digital lifestyle. Steve has not stop being a great entrepreneur for four decades. Nancy could have said a lot more.

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