When Steve Jobs officially returned to Apple 15 years ago, it marked a moment of rebirth for the ailing company. Within eight months (Sept. 17, 1997, to be exact), he assumed the mantle of Interim CEO (later abbreviated to iCEO for cuteness) and executed a stark and keen strategy to save Apple from oblivion.
Almost a year after his untimely passing, it's a good time to look back at seven key moves Jobs made to right the Apple ship during his early days as iCEO.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive or complete study: Jobs made dozens of decisions a day. I don't include some of his most important decisions -- for example, the ones to pursue the development of innovative new products such as the iMac, OS X, and the iPod. Instead, I'm thinking about the operational decisions that put his company on the track it still follows to this day.
Taking the reins
The most important decision Steve Jobs made was to take control of Apple. It didn't have to be that way.
After the purchase of NeXT in late 1996, Apple's then-CEO Gil Amelio brought Jobs in as a special advisor in January 1997. Jobs could have been content to simply provide advice and stay out of the way. Of course, that wasn't in his nature. Jobs quickly convinced Apples board of directors to oust Amelio. It wasn't long before Jobs nominated himself as a potential replacement. The board agreed, and Jobs was back in control.
Trimming the fat
Before Jobs came back to Apple, the company manufactured dozens of different Macintosh desktops, laptops, and servers in a dizzying array of variations. The firm also produced lines of printers, digital cameras, and other ancillary items, few of which made a profit.
Ultimately, Jobs axed more than 70 percent of Apple's hardware and software products. Most famously, he cancelled the Newton PDA, which still rankles some today.
In the Macintosh realm, Jobs wiped the slate clean. He defined a simple four-square grid to represent the future of the Macintosh: two for consumer desktops and portables (which would be occupied by the iMac and the iBook, respectively), and two for pro desktops and portables (filled by the Power Macintosh and the PowerBook, respectively). Anything that didn't fit in that grid got cut.
His product cuts resulted in the layoffs of over 3,000 employees during Jobs' first year as iCEO. But those cuts, while painful at first, allowed Apple to focus on creating a handful of good products instead of dozens of mediocre ones.
By 1996, most members of Apple's Board of Directors had been focused on how they could chop up Apple and sell it to the highest bidder. Upon his return, Jobs knew he needed a new board with a more positive attitude and a deeper loyalty to him as a leader. Within a few weeks, Jobs managed to force the resignation of most of Apple's board members, including former CEO Mike Markkula -- the man who provided critical seed money to get Apple off the ground in 1977.
In their place, Jobs installed close friends like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and former Apple VP of Marketing Bill Campbell.