Steve Jobs: One of the greatest business leaders?

Steve Jobs was certainly a CEO deserving of his renown, but was he the best?

3. David Maxwell: the turnaround

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    A woman walks by the Fannie Mae headquarters, located in Washington, D.C.
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David Maxwell was born in Philadelphia. He served a single tour of duty in the US Navy and began his career as an attorney. But as his life progressed he gained an awareness of what he called a widening "division between the haves and have-nots," particularly in the housing market, where he noted many of the poor were unable to pay mortgages. This, more than anything else, brought him to Fannie Mae.

At the time he joined the company in 1981, Fannie Mae was losing $1 million dollars a day. Maxwell implemented his goal of restructuring things for two ends: first, the salvation of the organization, and second, the strengthening of "America’s social fabric by democratizing home ownership." By the 1990s, writes Jim Collins in Fortune, "Fannie Mae had beat the stock market at a rate more than twice that attained by Chrysler," which received all the media attention for doing the same thing Maxwell had done, but nowhere near as dramatically. "If turnaround is an art," says Collins, "Maxwell was its Michaelangelo."

Jobs's turnaround of Apple was even more dramatic. The computer company he founded was, by the mid 1980s, struggling to maintain market share against a host of cheaper IBM PC clones. The board famously stripped Jobs of operational responsibilities and handed the reins to a string of CEOs. By the time Jobs came back to the company in 1997, a long line of unpopular releases had tarnished Apple's reputation, cut into profits, and pushed the stock price down to record lows. Jobs’s first major project, the iMac, sold 800,000 copies in its first 5 months on shelves. He followed up by pushing Apple into consumer electronics with a string of great products from the iPod to the iPad. Between 2000 to 2011, Apple's stock price rose and astonishing 3,000 percent., becoming the world's second biggest company in terms of market valuation behind Exxon Mobile Corp.

Of course, Fannie Mae went on to overreach in the following decade – long after Maxwell had retired – and its mortgage portfolio was in such bad shape the federal government had to take it over. Apple's post-Jobs future still has to be written.

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