Image: Steve Jobs
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Steve Jobs' charismatic style allowed him to quickly move past his, and Apple's miscues. In July of 2010 at the company's headquarters he moved to defuse the "antennagate" scandal where some iPhone users got spotty or no service.
By Allison Linn Senior writer
updated 10/5/2011 9:50:09 PM ET 2011-10-06T01:50:09

College dropout. Fired tech executive. Unsuccessful businessman.

Steve Jobs will always be best known for his incredible success in guiding Apple Inc. and transforming the entire consumer computer and phone industry. But he’ll also be remembered fondly as the poster child for how making mistakes — and even failing — can sometimes end up being the best thing that ever happens to you.

Jobs passed away Wednesday after suffering for years from health problems, likely stemming from a battle with cancer.

His death came after he was forced to step down from his position as chief executive of Apple because of the ongoing health problems. He stayed on as chairman of the company.

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By the time he turned the reins of the company over to his second in command, Tim Cook, Jobs had become one of the business world’s greatest comeback kids.

The company he founded, was fired from, and then returned to has gone from also-ran to technology industry leader. Under Jobs’ intensely detail-oriented leadership, Apple created several iconic products, including the iPod, iPhone and iPad, which have changed the face of consumer technology forever.

Apple also is now one of the most valuable companies in America by market capitalization. Jobs was one of the richest men in the world.

He wasn’t always in the enviable position of being both Wall Street and Silicon Valley’s darling.

College dropout
Like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, Jobs never graduated from college.

In fact, he only made it through about six months at Reed College, a highly selective liberal arts school in Oregon, before dropping out because he thought it was too expensive for his middle-class parents.

In a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs recalled sleeping on friends’ floors and walking across town to the Hare Krishna temple for free meals. But he also recalled how dropping out left him with time to take a calligraphy class, which later would inform the typography aesthetic of the first Mac.

“If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do,” he said in the commencement speech.

Fired executive
Career coaches and leadership gurus will often say that getting fired can be the best thing that ever happened to you, but that can be hard to believe if you’re the one being shown the door.

That’s especially true when you consider the case of Jobs. He wasn’t just fired. He was dumped by Apple, his baby, the company he had co-founded in his garage with pal Steve Wozniak.

The firing came after a power struggle in which the board of directors sided with John Sculley, a former Pepsi executive who had been brought in to run the company.

In the Stanford commencement speech, Jobs recalled the devastating public humiliation of being ousted, and conceded that he even considered running away from Silicon Valley. Only later did he see how the blow helped him.

“I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life,” Jobs said in the Stanford commencement speech.

Instead of running away, during his time away from Apple Jobs bought the animation studio Pixar and started the computer company NeXT.

Pixar revolutionized animated moviemaking with releases such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “Cars.” It later was sold to The Walt Disney Co.

Unsuccessful businessman
NeXT wasn’t quite as successful as Pixar. Jobs’ dream of a pricey, beautiful computer, dubbed the Cube because of its shape, never found its niche. The company’s software also wasn’t widely adopted.

In an eviscerating 1991 article, Forbes said Jobs “has made fundamentally wrong decisions that could well doom the venture.”

“None of this is to deny Jobs the credit due him for what he did in cofounding Apple. But there are very few miracle workers in the business world, and it is now clear that Steve Jobs is not one of them,” author Julia Pitta wrote in the Forbes piece.

Still, even NeXT ended up being an important stepping stone for Jobs. In 1997, a struggling Apple bought NeXT and incorporated some of the company’s technology into Apple products. The deal also brought Jobs back to the company, and he eventually took over as CEO.

When the prodigal Jobs returned to Apple, many were openly speculating whether Apple was beyond salvation, as the company wallowed in financial losses and seemed to have lost direction.

By now, it’s safe to say Jobs proved them wrong.

© 2013 Reprints

Video: A look back at the life of Steve Jobs

Photos: Life

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  1. Apple remembers Jobs

    A picture of Apple Inc. co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs is featured on the front page of the website after his passing on Oct. 5, 2011. Jobs, counted among the greatest American CEOs of his generation, died on Wednesday at the age of 56, after a years-long and highly public battle with cancer and other health issues. (Apple via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A final appearance

    Steve Jobs is shown in his last public appearance on June 7, 2011 as he made a presentation to the Cupertino City Council regarding plans for Apple's new headquarters in this video frame grab. (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. iLife’s launch

    Steve Jobs announces iLife 11 as he speaks during an Apple special event at the company's headquarters on Oct. 20, 2010 in Cupertino, Calif. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jobs resigns

    Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs smiles after Apple's music-themed media event in San Francisco on Sept. 1, 2010. The company announced that Jobs had resigned on Aug. 24. Tim Cook, the company's chief operating officer, who has been standing in for Jobs during his medical leave, was named the new CEO, and Jobs became chairman. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. iPhone’s ‘antennagate’

    Steve Jobs talks about some of the perceived problems with the iPhone 4 at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., on July 16, 2010. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Medvedev meets Jobs

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev looks at an iPhone 4 with Steve Jobs, June 23, 2010, at Apple Inc. in Cupertino, Calif. Medvedev visited Silicon Valley as part of a U.S. tour that also took him to Washington for meetings with President Obama. (Dmitry Astakhov / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. iPad revealed

    Steve Jobs holds up the new iPad as he speaks during an Apple special event at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Jan. 27, 2010 in San Francisco. The iPad was a success from the moment it was introduced. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Changing appearance

    Steve Jobs is shown in this combination of file photographs dating (top row, left to right) 2000, 2003, 2005, (bottom row, left to right) 2006, 2008 and 2009. (Staff / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Taking the stage

    Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks at an Apple event in San Francisco on Sept. 9, 2008. (Jeff Chiu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Ultra-thin computing

    Steve Jobs holds up a new Macbook Air, an ultra-thin laptop, in San Francisco on Jan. 12, 2008. (John G. Mabanglo / EPA file) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Jobs inducted

    Steve Jobs kisses Maria Shriver after being inducted into the California Hall of Fame in Sacramento on Dec. 5, 2007. (Kimberly White / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. iPhone introduced

    Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco on Jan. 9, 2007. (David Paul Morris / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Opening doors

    Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs looks at the crowds at the grand opening of the new Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York on May 19, 2006. (Seth Wenig / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. French connection

    Steve Jobs poses with Apple Executive Vice-President Timothy Cook, left, and Senior Vice-President Jon Rubinstein after a news conference during the opening day of the Paris Apple Expo on Sept. 20, 2005. (Charles Platiau / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. iPod for U2

    Bono, of the band U2, and Steve Jobs hold up Apple iPods at an unveiling of a new branded iPod in San Jose, Calif. on, Oct. 26, 2004. Bono is holding up an iPod with a red dial and black casing. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Changing tunes

    Steve Jobs gestures during Apple's launch of their online "Music Store" and new iPod in San Francisco on April 28, 2003. Apple's new service pulled music from five major record labels offering more than 200,000 songs at 99 cents a download. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. iBook launched

    Steve Jobs carries an iBook laptop computer with built-in handle in New York on July 22, 1999. (Ted Thai / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. iColorful

    Steve Jobs holding an iMac computer in 1998. The iMac, with its jelly colors and friendly rounded corners, was an alternative to the bland looking PCs of the time. (Moshe Brakha / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Jobs and Gates

    Steve Jobs, left, stands at a podium as Microsoft’s Bill Gates appears on a video screen as they speak to the MacWorld convention, praising the new alliance between Apple and Microsoft, on Aug. 6, 1997, in Boston, Mass. Apple and Microsoft unveiled a stunning alliance in which Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple’s stock. (Julia Malakie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Making a billion

    Steve Jobs became a billionaire on Nov. 29, 1995, when a small digital studio that he owned went public. In its first trading day, investors gave Pixar Animation Studios, the company that made the No. 1 movie “Toy Story,” a market value of $1.46 billion. (Kristy Macdonald / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Jobs at NeXT

    Steve Jobs, as president and CEO of NeXT Computer Inc., shows off the company’s new NeXTstation, after an introduction to the public in San Francisco on Sept. 18, 1990. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Apple IIc unveiled

    Steve Jobs, left, John Sculley, center, who was then president and CEO, and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, unveil the new Apple IIc computer in San Francisco on April 24, 1984. (Sal Veder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Wondrous machine

    Steve Jobs, then chairman of the board of Apple, leans on the Macintosh personal computer following a shareholder meeting in Cupertino, Calif., on Jan 24, 1984. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. No fool

    Apple’s Steve Jobs introduces the Apple II in Cupertino, Calif. in 1977. Apple Computer was formed on April Fool’s Day in 1976. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Getting started

    Steve Jobs’ senior portrait is seen in the Homestead High School yearbook. He attended the school in Cupertino, Calif., and graduated in 1972. (Polaris) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Apple Inc co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs picture is featured on the front page of the Apple website after his passing
    Apple via Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (25) Slideshow: Jobs through the years - Life
  2. Image: Tribute to Steve Jobs
    Peter Trebitsch / EPA
    Slideshow (16) Slideshow: Jobs through the years - World reaction

Data: Timeline: A look at Jobs' life


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