The death of Steve Jobs has led to the inevitable debate over just how important a figure he was. An undeniable master of consumer taste, Jobs transformed the tech industry and helped define the digital age. But where, ultimately, will he stand as an historical figure?
The comparisons to Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison seem a bit of a stretch. While Jobs has his name on hundreds of patents, he was not an inventor in the classic sense. What he was was an innovator and a business leader, with an unparalleled ability to bring people together to execute his technological visions.
Here are eight business greats. You decide who deserves the top spot.
Steve Jobs (1955-2011): A brilliant visionary who changed the way people live, interact, and experience the world. With Apple, he built one of the largest and most profitable businesses in history, helping to reshape broad swaths of the economy along the way.
Bill Gates (b. 1955): A fierce Jobs competitor and longtime friend, Bill Gates was arguably the man who did the most to speed up the personal computer revolution. Microsoft's dominance has fallen, largely to due to Apple and Google, and Gates now dedicates his life to philanthropy.
Henry Ford (1863-1947): He revolutionized factory production and created assembly lines that, ultimately, transformed all manufacturing. And if you think the iPod created excitement when it came out, you should have been around for the introduction of the Motel T automobile.
Bill Hewlett (1913-2001) and David Packard (1912-1996): The two electrical engineers from Stanford University set up shop in a Packard's garage in Palo Alto, Calif., during the Great Depression. Before long, they had created an electronics manufacturing powerhouse that cranked out everything from oscillators and calculators to the first mass-produced personal computer, which Hewlett called a "desktop calculator."
Andy Grove (b. 1936): Grove, a semiconductor industry pioneer, co-founded Intel and ran the company during its glory days of the late 1980s and 1990s. For a time, Intel's chips came to power almost all the PCs in existence. Grove became a leader in electronics manufacturing who, to this day, is called upon for his wisdom.
Walt Disney (1901-1966): Disney's work dominated the entertainment industry for much of the 20th century--as a producer, an entertainer, creator of Mickey Mouse and, of course, as the co-founder (with his brother, Roy O. Disney) of what's now known as The Walt Disney Company.
Louis Gerstner (b. 1942): Lou Gerstner showed that big companies that get out-innovated don't have to die. When he took over as IBM's CEO in 1993, the company was severely wounded, bloated, and behind the times. During Gerstner's tenure, which extended until 2002, IBM had returned to its dominance of corporate computing and remains a strong force in technology and consulting services.