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Most Influential CEOs: Apple's Steve Jobs Embraces His Inner Control Freak


Motivated executives-turned-Machiavellian tyrants owe a debt of gratitude to this CEO.

Have you ever participated in a group think tank only to adopt everyone else's responsibility, believing you could do it better? Have you ever held a device with an impeccably designed user interface that masked its limited features? Have you ever tucked a black turtleneck into your jeans to acquire an air of laid back authority? If so, you have been unwittingly touched by the overwhelming influence that Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs commands.

A Buddhist whiz kid who blossomed into a calculated control freak, Jobs has displayed constant forward thinking, maintained blazing momentum, and ruled with an iron multitouch fist. He was forced out by the company that he himself co-founded only to be brought back, propelling it to heights no one thought possible. He's charismatic yet feared, single-minded yet erratic, principled yet untethered. When he wants something done a specific way, Jobs is a man who doesn't cotton to out-of-the-box thinking.

But that's not to say the man doesn't have his reasons.

To give a brief rundown of Jobs' accomplishments almost comes at a disservice to his reputation. He and Apple cohort Steve Wozniak developed the groundbreaking Apple II series. He championed the memorable launch of the Macintosh computer. After expulsion in 1985 (see Stupid Business Decisions: Apple Fires Steve Jobs), he rallied to develop NeXT Computer and bought a little company which went on to become Pixar (DIS). Upon his return, he went to work on the Mac OS X -- based on designs created at NeXT, throttled Apple back into relevance, and practically privatized the use of the letter i. iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad. The boundless aspirations and triumphs at Jobs' helm is undeniable.

And, as expected, it's gone to his head.

As a leader, Jobs has inspired many a tale of his managerial style. He's basically risked stalking charges with incessant phone calls and unannounced visits to top executives. His subordinates became nauseous at the thought of sharing an elevator with him, given his history of firing workers between floors. He's instilled so much fear in Apple employees that no one had to heart to tell him his "Think Different" marketing campaign was grammatically incorrect.

Jobs' tried and true creativity appears to have culminated into a megalomaniacal authority. He once told BusinessWeek in 1998, "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." And in 2004, "I've always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do."

In fact, being a man who doesn't mince words, Jobs' pull quotes do fairly well at defining who the man is.

Regarding Apple products during his absence from the company, "The products suck! There's no sex in them anymore!"

Speaking with Fortune about the Mac OS X, "We made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them."

Hyping Pixar's upcoming Toy Story in 1995, "We believe it's the biggest advance in animation since Walt Disney started it all with the release of Snow White 50 years ago."

And taking down former Apple CEO John Sculley in a way we all wish we can publicly trash a former employer:
John Sculley ruined Apple and he ruined it by bringing a set of values to the top of Apple which were corrupt and corrupted some of the top people who were there, drove out some of the ones who were not corruptible, and brought in more corrupt ones and paid themselves collectively tens of millions of dollars and cared more about their own glory and wealth than they did about what built Apple in the first place -- which was making great computers for people to use.
Respectably, many would summarize Jobs as an arrogant blowhard. And in many ways, he is. But at a time when Apple was looking at a long road to the top, Jobs was the very thing they needed: a hype man with the vision and unflinching confidence to carry it out. In a way, he is the Flavor Flav of Apple: You may not agree with his tactics, but you'll never find someone more enthusiastic about the group of which he's a part.

After all, is there a company that generates nearly as much excitement as Apple since Jobs' return?

Also don't miss Josh Lipton's Pop Biz report on Apple. Watch it below.

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