Adam Lashinsky's CEO of the Decade cover story at Fortune this week pointed out a fascinating "what if" in Apple history. What if Steve Jobs had tried a hostile takeover of Apple?
According to the story, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and his friend Steve Jobs were on a beach in Hawaii in '97 when Ellison, under the influence of a few margaritas, floated the idea of buying Apple to bring Jobs back into power at the company he had co-founded with Steve Wozniak.
Jobs declined, although Ellison had funding all lined up to allow The Steve to make a hostile takeover of the company. He told Ellison that a takeover would make people think he was greedy, just wanting to make money out of Apple. Ellison later stated that "He (Jobs) explained to me that with the moral high ground, he thought he could make decisions more easily and more gracefully."
Over at Gizmodo, Jesus Diaz surmises that it was more than decision-making that went into Steve's refusal to push his way back into power; it was love. As Diaz notes,
"Steve wanted to be wanted. He knew he was loved by the public and the press. After all, everyone likes the story of a legend coming back-to see him succeed or, better yet for Hollywood drama, fail. More importantly, the company was his company. He didn't have to buy it! That was absolutely preposterous, he probably thought at the time. He knew he was going to return as King once again, acclaimed by his troops and his people, so why spend any money?"
Since his return to Apple, Steve Jobs has, of course, brought the company from the brink of extinction into profitability and recognition. Whether or not he would have been equally successful as a result of a hostile takeover is a great plot for an alternative universe sci-fi novel, but it adds a lot to the legend of Steve Jobs to know that he was able to regain control of the company through a combination of connections, persuasion, and his love for his company.
The rest is history. As Ellison stated in his Fortune interview, "The difference between me and Steve is that I'm willing to live with the best the world can provide-with Steve that's not always good enough." That difference explains why Apple continues to amaze us with their products, why Steve Jobs is so important to the company, and why Jobs was the hands-down choice for Fortune's CEO of the Decade.
Post edited to properly credit Fortune.