March 5, 2021

Jobs, Rare Among C.E.O.’s, Engendered Affection

His decision to step down as chief executive of Apple brought people to tears, inspired loving tributes to him on the Web and even had some adoring customers flocking to Apple stores on Thursday to share their sentiments with other fans of Macs, iPhones and iPads.

“Through the mist in my eyes, I am having a tough time focusing on the screen of this computer,” wrote Om Malik, the prominent technology blogger. “I want to wake up and find it was all a nightmare.”

Andrew Baughen, a church vicar from London who paused during his San Francisco vacation to shop at an Apple store after he heard the news, said he was praying for Mr. Jobs. Apple, he said, “is not a corporation. It’s more like a family, a movement. I’d like to meet him in heaven and say, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Business leaders, whether fictional like Ebenezer Scrooge and Gordon Gekko or real like Rupert Murdoch or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, are usually regarded with considerably less warmth, as rapacious rather than revered. 

“It’s unusual right here, right now, given that Americans’ feelings about business are just north of their feelings about Congress,” said Nancy F. Koehn, a historian at Harvard Business School.

That Mr. Jobs is seriously ill gave the tributes a poignancy and sense of foreboding. But the aloof man in a black turtleneck — who spent the last month on a yacht with his family, according to people with knowledge of his whereabouts — also managed to foster familial emotions among those who work in technology and business and ordinary people who use Apple products.

“Every decade or so, an icon emerges who both has a Midas touch and is in an industry that is in our collective consciousness,” said Jon Kulok, co-founder of Edge Research, a marketing research firm for corporations and nonprofits. “However, unlike those figures, he goes out at the top of his game, and some of the commentary today reflects his going out on top.” 

There were hundreds of thousands of messages shared online about Steve Jobs after his announcement Wednesday, nearly all of them positive, according to NetBase, which analyzes social media commentary. On Twitter, many of the posts expressed love for Mr. Jobs, an emotion that rarely surfaces in business chatter.

Part of the reason, analysts said, is that people love Apple products in a way that they do not love other products they use everyday, whether toothbrushes, toasters or BlackBerrys. And Mr. Jobs as a chief executive is uniquely connected to Apple’s creations.

“What makes Steve Jobs particularly special is it’s as if he personally handed you an iPhone and an iPad. So to many consumers it feels like a gift from a family member,” said Jon A. Krosnick, a social psychologist at Stanford University. As a result, Apple customers feel like they have a personal connection with the man, even though the company is highly secretive and Mr. Jobs is very private.

While Mr. Jobs’s business style — he is well known for terse e-mails and browbeating tactics — has earned him critics over the years, even many of them stopped to praise him on Thursday. 

One sometimes critic of Mr. Jobs, Glenn Kelman, the chief executive of Redfin, an online real estate agency, wrote on the company’s blog: “I still remember exactly where I was, standing in a Dolores Street apartment with a cereal bowl in my hand, when he came on TV to say a competitor had no poetry. It made me think poetry had a place in business and that in turn made me think I had a place in business, too.” 

Dario Fiorillo, who went to an Apple store in San Francisco to buy an iPod while visiting from Italy, said: “Everyone I have spoken with about it is shocked and sad. We all feel like we have a relationship with Steve Jobs.”

Apple’s aura of mystery makes Mr. Jobs that much more alluring, analysts and Apple fans said. His against-all-odds personal story also makes him sympathetic and admirable. He was fired from Apple before returning and transforming it into a juggernaut, and he has continued to work through pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant. 

Ms. Koehn of Harvard said that love for corporate chiefs, while unusual in its excess, was not unprecedented.

Lee A. Iacocca, who created the Mustang before Ford fired him and then joined Chrysler and saved it from bankruptcy, had a similar following three decades ago. His story, of a victorious second act and of products that captured Americans’ hearts, bears similarities to that of Mr. Jobs.

Others compared Mr. Jobs to Thomas Edison. The outpouring of public admiration for Mr. Jobs resembles what the inventor and businessman received, said Paul Israel, director of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University. And like Mr. Jobs, Mr. Edison was a master of marketing himself and his products.

“People expected that the Edison technology, whatever it was, would be the best technology,” Mr. Israel said, “and I think that’s what Steve Jobs represents to a lot of people.”

Nick Bilton and Matt Richtel contributed reporting.

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