Steve Jobs: One of the greatest business leaders?

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs saw the company through its infancy, its early tremors of doubt, and its wild bouts of success. Among his more significant lessons was this: Being best is more important than being first. How does Jobs, who passed away Oct. 5, 2011, stack up against America's great business leaders when tested by his own rule? Here's a look at how he compares with five of the greats:

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
Steve Jobs smiles and displays the iPhone 4 on June 7. Jobs resigned as Apple CEO on Aug. 24.

1. Henry Ford: vision

Henry Ford, CEO of Ford Motor Co., is shown here in a 1942 photo.

Henry Ford would be tough competition for anyone vying for the title of "Top CEO." Though the automobile was an expensive luxury item when he founded the Ford Motor Co. in 1903, Ford had a dream: to build, as he said, "a car for the great multitude." The obstacles were numerous: for example, he would need to find a way to produce vehicles both cheaply and quickly (at the time a single company could only fashion two or three a day), and he would need to hope that eventually his merchandise was included in the definition of an American lifestyle.

Ford succeeded on both accounts. To speed up production he relied on division of labor and the early assembly line, in which "workers remained in place, adding one component to each automobile as it moved past them." And after the Model T, the United States evolved to embrace Ford’s gift; as highways were planned and suburbia grew, the American population was increasingly "entranced with the possibility of going anywhere, anytime."

If Jobs lagged behind Ford here, it wasn’t by much. He too was familiar with pushing products before they had a market. "It’s really hard to design products by focus groups," he once said in a 1998 interview with BusinessWeek, "A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them." What makes Jobs stand apart is that his vision transformed two industries – computers and consumer electronics. And he did it with products that were groundbreaking, not because they were first, but because they were designed in such a way that millions of people had to have them.

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