Steve Jobs was an unconventional leader. His management style wasn't the stuff of university textbooks - he wasn't known for his consultative or consensus building approach.
He was a "high-maintenance co-worker" who demanded excellence from his staff and was known for his blunt delivery of criticism.
But it was his sheer genius combined with his ability to articulate his vision and bring staff, investors and customers along on the journey - plus the lessons learned in a major career setback - that made it work. The results: indisputable.
A 'visionary' is how he is most often described in relation to Apple, the company he founded with high school buddy Steve Wozniak in 1976, was effectively fired from in 1985, and then returned to in 1997 with a renewed sense of purpose.
And what a triumphant return it was. According the , the market value of Apple's shares has grown from about $US5 billion in 2000 to $US351 billion today making it one of the biggest publicly listed companies in the US, up there with the likes of Exxon Mobil.
Dr Brent Coker from the University of Melbourne's management and marketing faculty describes Jobs as “one of the greatest business strategists of all times”.
“There are a lot of people out there claiming to be futurists,” Dr Coker said.
“Most of them are keynote speakers or public speakers - it is rare to have a futurist that demonstrated his ability to almost predict the future in a real live business setting.”
But Jobs's rise to the top was hardly textbook perfect. A university dropout, he worked at Atari and travelled through India before seeing a commercial opportunity in the computer (the original Apple I) Wozniak had built to impress some friends.
They started the company with an investment of $US1300 of their own money, making it into the Fortune 500 list by 1983. That year Jobs recruited former Pepsi executive John Sculley to take the chief executive position, only to be stripped of all his power by him in 1985. According to author Steven Levy, this was prompted by the Macintosh computer not selling as well as expected, as well as Jobs's demanding management style.
As Harry McCracken writes in : “Jobs may have been inspiring, but he was also a high-maintenance co-worker” who labelled people who didn't impress him as “bozos”.
“We have an environment where excellence is really expected,” Jobs in an interview in 1983.
“What's really great is to be open when [the work] is not great. My best contribution is not settling for anything but really good stuff, in all the details. That's my job, to make sure everything is great.”
In the time he was away from Apple, Jobs took on new challenges. He bought Pixar, transforming it from a tiny animation house to an industry leader responsible for films such as Toy Story. He also started up computing firm NeXT which was later bought by Apple.
Editor of Mac The Magazine Matthew Powell says starting from scratch in 1985 taught Jobs discipline and patience.
“At NeXT and Pixar he was the guy in charge, didn't answer to anybody, and success or failure rested very heavily on his decisions,” Powell says.
“I think that was a significant part of it. At Apple he'd been constantly kicking against partners or superiors to get what he wanted, often blaming others when things didn't work out and occasionally wrapping himself in glory that rightly belonged to others.”
Dr Croker believes it also gave him that extra push to succeed at Apple the second time around.
“Anyone who has been kicked out of the ring forms the attitude 'right, I'm going to show them',” he said.
“They get very focused – if anything it did him some good. It was an extremely strong motivator for success in later years.”
Control of the big and little
Jobs exerted his control over every aspect of the business in the quest for perfection. The reports that over the course of a year he threw out two prototypes of the iPhone before accepting the third. Toy Story took four years to make, but retained the support of Jobs despite the company struggling financially.
An investigation into the workplace culture of Apple published in May by found that Jobs's control even extended as far as the design of the company bus and the food served at the cafeteria.
In its interviews with former employees Fortune found that Jobs encouraged a culture of strict accountability at all levels of the organisation by meeting each Monday with executives to set the tone for the week. Run by a strict agenda, these meetings reviewed every single product under development.
“Eighty per cent is the same as it was the last week, and we just walk down it every single week,” Jobs said in an interview with Fortune in 2008.
“We don't have a lot of process at Apple, but that's one of the few things we do just to all stay on the same page."
Employees were recruited into the company as specialists and put into roles that made the most of their specific strengths and abilities. Turnover was low despite the demanding corporate culture - Jobs was a passionate advocate for his vision and incredibly effective at communicating this to shareholders, customers and staff.
"It is a happy place in that it has true believers," a headhunter told Fortune.
"People join and stay because they believe in the mission of the company, even if they aren't personally happy."
Jobs resigned from the Apple chief executive position in August for medical reasons, battling the pancreatic cancer that would later take his life. His absence was missed at the launch of the latest iPhone, held the day before he died – such is the interdependence between him and the brand he co-founded.
Dr Coker said time would tell whether Jobs's absence would have a dramatic impact on the company's success.
“The danger is to go off on a fork to live up to expectations but then it goes wrong,” he says.
“The next five years will be interesting to watch.”
-with Asher Moses
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