Chief executive officers are not often the recipients of worldwide mourning. Women and men of great power and wealth in the business world sometimes are celebrities, but it’s rare for them to be adored, admired or even considered decent by the average human being. Their companies are their public faces, as it often should be. The chief executive’s job is, after all, about making their company an industry leader and economic force.
But Steve Jobs was hardly just a CEO. The man was very much the face of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), but he was far more — an icon of technological ingenuity and a trailblazer in changing the way that human beings consume information, communicate and experience art in the 21st century. It’s no surprise, then, that powerful people have had powerful reactions to his death.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), had a tumultuous relationship with Jobs. In the past decade, the chief technologist at Microsoft watched his company’s domination of the computing industry weaken as Apple released paradigm-shifting products like the iPod, iPhone and the iTunes digital music distribution service. Gates released a statement sharing his condolences with Jobs’ loved ones and meditating on their shared history, describing the experience of working with Jobs as “an insanely great honor.” Given how the two of them changed the world during the past 30 years, even “insanely great” seems like an understatement.
Gates wasn’t the only former collaborator eulogizing Jobs on Thursday morning. John Lasseter of Pixar, the animation studio behind films like Toy Story that Jobs helped found in 1986, released a statement alongside Disney‘s (NYSE:DIS) president of animation, Ed Catmulli. Their statement discussed how Jobs always would influence Pixar’s creative endeavors, that he would “forever be a part of Pixar’s DNA.” They also remembered the simplicity of Jobs’ creative ideals. “The one thing he always said was to simply ‘make it great.'”
Even the most hard-hearted members of the business world offered kind (or at the very least admiring) words for Jobs on Thursday. News Corp.‘s (NASDAQ:NWS) embattled CEO Rupert Murdoch, still licking his wounds from the numerous scandals that plagued his company this summer, hailed Jobs. Murdoch called him not just “the greatest CEO of his generation,” but also “one of the most influential thinkers, creators and entrepreneurs of all time.”
Jobs’ death has been a unifying force. Murdoch’s words were strangely reflected in those of Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses and The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Where Murdoch used the language of industry to remember Jobs, Rushdie’s language delivered via Twitter was more poetic: “He was one of the great architects of the real.” Steve Jobs’ lasting legacy will be mirrored in the “real” Rushdie describes — the methods with which people communicate that the inventor and businessman so influenced.
Far more people have shared their feelings via the web and used the space to remember how Jobs’ creations personally affected their lives. Colin Meloy, the lead singer of The Decemberists and a musician whose career has been defined by the iPod and iTunes technology Jobs pioneered, said, “My dad brought home a squat, beige Mac in ’84. I played Dark Castle and wrote stories on it. It changed everything. Thanks, Mr. Jobs.”
That says it all. Steve Jobs did indeed change everything, and — more than anything else — the world is grateful for it.