Steve Jobs versus mortality

Steve was told he had pancreatic cancer back in 2003. While he tried to cure himself with alternative Eastern healing, his executives quietly panicked about the emperor’s new medicine. After nine months, it became clear that this very serious disease could not be cured with vague ancient remedies from another culture. The tumor had grown bigger.[1] Nevertheless, it’s a symptom of Steve’s belief in his own willpower that he tried to cure himself with through his own faith. Finally, he had the surgery to remove the tumor. Steve made his most personal public comment on the ordeal during his famous Stanford Commencement speech:
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades…No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there, and yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent.[2]

Six years later, he was told that the cancer has snuck into his liver.  He needed a new one. Steve waited patiently in a hospital bed in Memphis. The waiting list was shorter there than Stanford.
Somewhere out there on a Tennessee road bordered by fields of green, inside the wreckage of a smashed up car, a man in his mid-twenties stopped breathing. The paramedics checked that his licence had the little yellow spot that declared “donor”. This generous man’s decision saved the life of the CEO of Apple. A New York Times journalist wondered if Steve's money allowed him to jump the queue ahead of others to win the liver lottery.[3] Forbes also smelled a rat in the Memphis Methodist Hospital when the administration made contradictory statements about their patient. A reader posted a reply, "Why don't you just stick to FACTUAL FINANCIAL news reporting…".[4] With Steve’s permission, the hospital released a statement that Steve was the sickest patient on the waiting list, hence the rapid response. Steve’s health caused a lot of noise in every relevant newspaper, blog and forum. Here is an excerpt from an email from Philip Elmer-DeWitt, author of CNNmoney’s Apple 2.0 blog, to Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday Times:
He’s lost his gall-bladder, part of his stomach, part of his pancreas, the upper end of his small intestine and now has someone else’s liver, which probably means he’ll be on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life. That can’t be fun.[5]
There is both a strength and a weakness in building a company around the mythos of its leader. Customers, and especially shareholders, have their eagle eye trained on its leader. They have learned that the rise of fall of Apple relies solely upon Steve being around. He might talk about his company’s success as a team effort, but we only know the name of one of its team members. Fortune Magazine said, “In the 26 years that Fortune has been ranking America's Most Admired Companies, never has the corporation at the head of the list so closely resembled a one-man show.”  Management Science Professor, Robert Sutton, concurred, "Steve Jobs running the company from jail would be better for the stock price than Steve Jobs not being CEO". This is why people discuss Steve’s health more than the health any other industry leader. They gather around the bed of their sick king. Some of them are friends. Some of them are court conspirators. Here is Fortune Magazine’s opinion of the bullet that Steve dodged:
In the end, the combination of a happy outcome and remarkable secrecy about just how long Apple had known Jobs was sick minimized any public criticism - or impact on its shares. "Steve came through this okay, and Apple never suffered because of it," says one insider. "Had it come out differently - thank God it didn't - there could have been a lot of people second-guessing Apple had they known what happened." [6]
The cancer has left Steve looking as gaunt and hollow as a prisoner of war. Which is probably why he hasn’t changed his photo on since his more cherubic days. His trademark blue jeans have a lot more room in them now. 

The world press and the blogosphere are wondering how a serious illness will affect the behaviour of their digital evangelist. Steve was born at the centre-point of the baby boom. The New York Times describes the baby boomers as a miserable lot sinking into despair because they haven’t achieved what they wanted to before their end is nigh.[7]

Wall Street Journal reported that the atmosphere at Apple was much more relaxed in his absence. When Steve returned to Apple, he picked up where he left off: micro-managing the iPad’s development and driving everyone nuts.[8]

''I think he's lost it.” Biographer, Jeffery S Young blasted Steve for banning his book, iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business from Apple stores. “He faced mortality, and he knows without some massive change Bill Gates will be remembered as the important person in the computer business.”[9]

Steve was confronted at the 2007 All Things Digital Conference about his legacy compared to Bill who was knighted by the Queen for spending the lion’s share of his wealth on the world's poor.[10] Bill sat quietly beside Steve, humbled by the praise heaped upon him from the audience. Steve shot back, “I think the world’s a better place because Bill realized that his goal isn’t to be the richest guy in the cemetery, right?”[11] There followed a beat of heavy silence from the audience. Absent was the light reaction he was hoping to receive from his snide answer. The issue, however, did raise an important question. Who will carry on Steve's legacy?

[1] Elkind, P. (2008 March 5) The Trouble With Steve Jobs. Fortune Magazine.

[2] Jobs, S. (2005, September 5) Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
[3] Grady, D. & Meier, B. (2009, June 22) A Transplant That Is Raising Many Questions
[4] Caulfield, B. (2009, June 24) Why Did A Hospital Lie About Steve Jobs? Forbes magazine.

[5] Appleyard, B. (2009, August 16) Steve Jobs: The man who polished Apple. The Sunday Times.

[6] Elkind, P. (2008 March 5) The Trouble With Steve Jobs. Fortune Magazine.

[7] Barry, D. (2010, December 31) Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65. New York Times.

[8] Kane, Y.I. (2009, August 25) Jobs, Back at Apple, Focuses on New Tablet. Wall Street Journal.

[9] Hafner, K. (2005, April 30) Steve Jobs's Review of His Biography: Ban It. New York Times.

[10] Greene, J. (2005, march 3) Hail Gates, Conquering Knight. Business Week.

[11] Israelson, A. (2007, May 31) TRANSCRIPT–Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at D5. Retrieved from


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