Around 6:30 p.m. EST on August 24, 2011, Steve Jobs stepped down as the CEO of Apple. I remember sitting in my friend’s living room as the television switched to the breaking news. I was only in middle school at the time, but Steve’s influence had already weighed heavily on me. It was a difficult moment. As a kid I’d put together faux keynotes on our family iMac and presented my product ideas to an imaginary audience. I remember making movies about him at Apple Camp at my local Apple Store. His portraits even adorned my wall. He was my hero and I knew the moment that he resigned was the beginning of the end.
Since January of 2011, Steve had been on another medical leave because he was experiencing issues with his liver transplant that he had received in 2009. All of us fans knew that Tim Cook had been at the helm and that he was more than capable as leader. In the years leading up to this moment, Tim had been rolled out more than once on the keynote stage to become one of Apple’s handful of prominent and familiar faces.
But nothing can prepare you for the moment something earth shattering yet completely inevitable happens. We knew that Steve was in a fragile state, but he had always pulled through. After all, that was Steve’s thing. He was the quintessential comeback kid.
Breaking the news
When we all saw that dreaded press release, it was clear something was very wrong. Titled “Letter from Steve Jobs,” it was a short note from Steve himself addressed to both Apple’s board of directors and to the Apple community. Steve was succinct. He said he could no longer meet his “duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO.” After reading that sentence it was pretty evident what was to come next, but it was still shocking nonetheless. With a few more keystrokes, he had resigned.
Steve didn’t want to give up all of his duties at Apple though and asked the board to allow him to remain as chairman. He told the board to name Tim as CEO and he thanked his team for their work and friendship.
As a compliment to Steve’s note, Katie Cotton and Steve Dowling put out a press release with more details about the transition. Art Levinson, one of Apple’s board members and soon-to-be chairman said:
Steve’s extraordinary vision and leadership saved Apple and guided it to its position as the world’s most innovative and valuable technology company.
Art Levinson, chairman of Genentech and Apple Board Member
Apple fans, writers, customers, investors, and employees all felt a variety of emotions. First and foremost, sadness. Steve had revived a company we all adored and turned it into an empire of epic proportions. He was the most brilliant businesspeople of our time with an uncanny ability to empower people to do their best work. Would Apple be the same without him at the helm? That sadness turned into fear as people asked whether or not an operations guru like Tim Cook could lead Apple into its next chapter and keep it the most innovative company in the world. There was a great feeling of uncertainty about the company we loved and the founder we admired. But the message was clear, if Steve trusted Tim, we should too.
Reactions from the community
When looking back on articles and videos from that day, I’m hit with chills. I can place myself exactly then. As I said before, we knew that this could happen but it would still be absolutely stunning to us. That day John Gruber said on Daring Fireball: “This is not out of nowhere, it’s not even unexpected. We could all see this was coming — but it is a shock.” He also captured the feeling I had and I am sure many of you did as well: “I saw that headline and my nervous system took a jolt.” His piece is well worth revisiting and I think he put it best when he said: “Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.”
Our very own Seth Weintraub reacted to the news for 9to5Mac shortly after Steve made the announcement. Seth said:
This is of course a sad day and one that we’ve had in the back of our minds for years now. After founding Apple 35 years ago in his garage in Silicon Valley, and subsequently getting pushed out less than a decade later, Jobs was brought back in 1997 when Apple was on the brink of collapse. In the 14 years since his return, Apple has turned into the most valuable company in the world by market cap. To say that he’s leaving the CEO position on top would be an understatement.
Seth Weintraub, publisher of 9to5Mac
Jason Snell compiled quotes from various Apple analysts and community members that day for Macworld. Mike Isaac wrote for Wired calling Steve “the tech-savvy equivalent of Walt Disney.” He said:
Under Jobs, Apple delivered innovations from the first widely used mouse-driven user interface to the pocketable iPod media player, which created the digital-music revolution. It delivered the first popular tablet computer, the iPad, prompting a wholesale reinvention of the media business in the process.
As chief executive officer of Pixar Studios, Jobs became the tech-savvy equivalent of Walt Disney, fine-tuning the art of computer-generated storytelling beginning with Toy Story. Today, Apple continues to expand its reign in the mobile wireless industry with its phenomenally successful iPhone.
Mike Isaac, Wired
If you want to, you can still watch the breaking news announcement on CNN from that day on YouTube. There are also snippets from ABC News’s coverage available to watch. You can read more stories from that day from The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Verge, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.