Death of an Entrepreneur

Published October 10, 2011

Seldom is the passing of a corporate leader the stuff of front-page headlines and numerous commentaries. Steve Jobs, however, wasn’t just any corporate leader.

Jobs is rightly celebrated for his enormous contributions to the personal computing, wireless communications, and digital entertainment landscapes. His passing serves as a reminder of how competitive the information technology and telecommunications industries have become – despite government assertions to the contrary. With every market pioneered by Jobs’ Apple, Inc., dozens of competitors hung out their respective shingles to unseat the company’s preeminence with their own products and services.

A charismatic and notoriously mercurial visionary, Jobs first seized the brass ring of innovation with the Apple II, a little device credited with revolutionizing the world of personal computing. The Macintosh, the Apple II’s even more powerful and user-friendly successor, was as groundbreaking in its time as Johannes Gutenberg’s press was in the fifteenth century.

No, Jobs didn’t invent the mouse or personal computer, but his Mac transformed traditional publishing and home computing by moving it affordably to desktops throughout the world. Seemingly overnight, software emerged that rendered obsolete the stone-knives and bearskins graphics methods requiring typewriter ribbons, whiteout, proportion wheels, carbon copies, and pica poles.

Rather than resting on the laurels of such technological marvels, Apple kept churning out devices that captured the imaginations and discretionary income of the world’s consumers. Just as Xerox became synonymous with photocopying and Kleenex with facial tissue, Apple’s iTunes and iPod became the catch-all nomenclature for, respectively, digital music downloads and the devices that play them.

Under Jobs’ leadership, Apple amassed a $176 billion fortune the old-fashioned way – by creating innovative products rather than relying on government subsidies, tax-breaks, and favors to “level the playing field.”

It’s true that subsequent meddling in the digital market sometimes worked to the company’s benefit, but, as noted by my friend Sheldon Richman at the Foundation for Economic Education: “[Jobs] did not create the interventionist system, however much he, like most of his competitors, took advantage of it.”

Jobs ranks with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford among history’s greatest entrepreneurs. But, similar to these giants of innovation, the companies he put on the map are besieged by competition on every front. Google hopes to unseat the iPhone’s popularity with the Android; Netflix is gunning for iTunes’ market share; the $199 Amazon Fire aims to garner a portion of the iPad’s sales; and DreamWorks seeks to knock Pixar – the animation company granted prominence under Jobs’ leadership – off its pedestal.

This is how it should be. The results benefit us all by creating jobs, products, as well as accessories, applications, and marketing tie-ins.

It’s too soon to determine if Jobs’ passing will create an innovation-leadership vacuum at Apple. However, several things are certain.

First, our lives have all been enriched by his pioneering vision, which brought us new platforms for information, communication, and entertainment. Second, his efforts not only made Jobs and Apple extremely well-off, but also generated both enormous wealth and considerable cost savings far beyond Silicon Valley and Hollywood into nearly every U.S. business and household – and millions more homes and businesses throughout out the world.

Perhaps Jobs’ legacy could provide a basic economic lesson for legislators seeking to extract some arbitrarily defined “fair share” and the protestors occupying our nation’s financial districts. Rather than calling on government to punish our country’s innovators and job creators, we should hoist them upon our collective shoulders and celebrate them for their contributions.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News.