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A Look Back at All of Apple's CEOs
A look into the history of leadership at one of Silicon Valley’s most storied companies.
Credit: Getty Images
8 minute read

Steve Jobs founded Apple in his garage with co-founders Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in Los Altos, California in 1976 as a computer technology company.

The company was launched on April Fools Day and went public in 1980, making Jobs (and many others) multi-millionaires. The Apple I, II and Macintosh computers completely revolutionized personal computing, and the Apple II became the first mass-marketed personal computer in the world.

Apple has grown exponentially since then, and currently has the largest market capitalization out of any company in the world, coming in at $2.8 trillion.

But Apple didn’t always use to be the well-oiled computer technology machine that it appears to be today. The company has had its share of leadership fumbles and was very close to shutting down at one point in the 1990s. Take a look at the village of executives who have led Apple throughout the company’s 46-year history.

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How many CEOs has Apple had?

Since the company was launched in 1977, Apple has had six different leaders leading as its CEO at different times. Although Jobs was a co-founder and an early employee, he didn’t serve as the chief executive at his own company until 1997, when he stepped in as an interim CEO.

In fact, Jobs was actually pushed out of the company entirely in 1985 after a power struggle occurred between him and Apple’s then-CEO, John Sculley.

Who was Apple’s first CEO?

Michael Scott

Michael Scott (1977-1981)

No, not that Michael Scott. The first CEO at Apple, Michael Scott started out as employee number seven, though even that fact has been disputed. He was recruited by Mike Markkula, Apple’s third employee and later CEO, to lead the company, as the other two co-founders (Jobs and Steve Wozniak) were seen as too inexperienced to be running a business.

Scott steered the early Apple team through a period of tremendous growth. The Apple II computer was released in June 1977 under his leadership, and led Scott to ban the use of typewriters in Apple’s offices.

But he also oversaw a challenging period for Apple, and was the CEO responsible for what Apple employees refer to as “Black Wednesday.” In early 1981, Scott fired more than half of the Apple II engineering team.

Here is the timeline of the remaining five chief executives who each had a turn leading one of the most successful computer companies in the world.

Mike Markkula (1981-1983)

Markkula is often referred to as the “forgotten founder” of Apple. As its third employee, Markkula was also an early investor of Apple, investing $250,000 to get it off the ground. He brought much-needed corporate guidance to a founding team that had none. Markkula previously worked at Intel as a product marketing manager, and had managed to retire early after making a small fortune on his stock options.

As a CEO, Markkula helped market the first two Apple computers and continue to boost the company with credit and venture capital.

Markkula rejoined the company as chairman of the board from 1985 to 1997, leaving once a full board shakeup occured when Jobs assumed the role of CEO.


Steve Jobs and John Sculley pose next to a Macintosh computer in 1984. Sculley previously served as Apple's president before taking over as CEO and eventually pushing Jobs out of the company. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Staff

John Sculley (1983-1993)

Sculley was the first in an era of rapid CEO turnover and internal turmoil at the company. Over the next four years, Apple saw three different chief executives, and it resulted in cumulative losses of $1.7 billion for the company. Sculley was also the CEO that pushed Jobs out of Apple, after a power struggle over how Jobs ran the operational teams.

A former CEO of PepsiCo, Sculley was brought into the top position at Apple to lend his marketing expertise and help the company sell more computers.

While he oversaw quite a large chunk of time in Apple history, the reputation of his tenure at Apple never quite recovered. His product strategy ultimately led to high engineering, manufacturing and marketing costs, and this influx of products caused confusion in the market. Unfortunately for Sculley, Conde Nast’s Portfolio actually ranked him as the 14th worst CEO of all time.

Michael Spindler (1993-1996)

Spindler was brought in to replace Sculley after a particularly tumultuous chapter in Apple history.

He worked his way through the ranks at Apple over in Europe, until he led as President of its European operations. He replaced Scully as CEO in 1993. Spindler’s tenure at Apple was short-lived and ultimately not very successful. The failure of both the Newton and Copland operating systems were both credited to Spindler.

He did, however, lead discussions for a possible takeover between Apple, IBM, Sun and Philips before Gil Amelio came in to replace him three years later.

Gil Amelio (1996-1997)

Despite already being on Apple’s board of directors, Gil Amelio took over as CEO in 1996 for a short year, the shortest CEO stint in Apple history.

Before Apple, Amelio was President of National Semiconductor, the same company that Apple’s first CEO Michael Scott had worked at before his tenure at Apple.

Under his guidance, Amelio helped turn over Apple’s low-quality products and introduced Mac OS 8. Amelio also bought Steve Jobs’ NeXT for $429 million.

But within a year, Apple’s stock plummeted to a 12-year low, and board members were getting increasingly dissatisfied after three consecutive unsuccessful CEO appointments.

As Mike Markkula recalls in his interview with the New York Times, “it became evident that the Board of Directors were so unhappy with Amelio’s leadership less than a year that they began discussing the need to find a successor.”

This proved to be a difficult crisis for Markkula, who, as he tells it, was planning on leaving before that point, making his resignation after Amelio was forced out tainted with disgrace.

Steve Jobs

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks during an Apple Special Event at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts January 27, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Apple introduced its latest creation, the iPad, a mobile tablet browsing device that is a cross between the iPhone and a MacBook laptop. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Steve Jobs (1997-2011)

While Jobs is best known for starting Apple and for being the face of the company, he didn’t actually lead as chief executive until 1997, and that was only supposed to be in an interim position.

In the earliest days of Apple, Jobs worked as a skilled marketer and entrepreneur to get his business off the ground, while an impressive technical team worked to create hardware that would shape the next several generations.

Jobs worked in product development at Apple until 1985, when he was ousted after a power struggle between himself and then-CEO John Sculley. He went on to start his own rival computer company called NeXT, and later purchased and served as the CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, overseeing the production of Toy Story. He returned to Apple in 1996 as an advisor and eventually became CEO and Chairman until his resignation in 2011.

Jobs was behind the invention of the iPod, and also helped create the new Mac OS X, the iMac, iTunes and the early version of the iPhone. He also had his hands on the product development of the iPad and engineered Apple’s sleek and company designs that it’s associated with today.

He stepped down in 2011, after a cancer diagnosis left him unable to fulfill the role.

tim cook

Tim Cook filled in for Jobs as an interim CEO twice before officially taking over the role in 2011.

Tim Cook (2011-present)

Cook officially took over the reins from Jobs when he retired in 2011, and has been leading the company ever since. At the time, Apple had around 60,400 full-time employees. Today that number has climbed to 147,000, according to a 2021 filing.

In his tenure, Cook has overseen several new product launches such as the Apple Watch in 2015 and Apple AirPods in 2016. But the iPhone remains Apple’s most popular product—it accounted for 47% of sales in Q2 of 2021.

Revenue has also tripled in the decade since Cook started as CEO. According to reporting by CNBC, in the third fiscal quarter of 2011, Apple reported $28.57 billion in revenue. By the third fiscal quarter of 2021, Apple reported $81.4 billion in sales — nearly three times as much.

Cook’s upcoming challenges will be to continue navigating the increasing tension between government regulation and Big Tech, particularly with regards to Apple’s App Store and the monopoly regulators allege it has created.

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