Apple and Microsoft during the Rise of Smartphones

Perhaps the most striking example of the importance of management is to compare two CEOs named Steve. In 2007, Apple introduced the first iPhone model, which was the first mobile device with first-class access to the internet. It was so innovative, that it ushered in a new generation of technology companies. Despite deep experience with operating systems, Microsoft did not manage to launch a competitive product.

“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” –Steve Jobs, iPhone Event 2007

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” –Steve Ballmer, USA Today 2007

Steve Jobs holding a MacBook

Steve Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976 and served various roles until he was famously ousted by the board of directors in 1985. In 1997, he returned to lead the company from the brink of bankruptcy. Jobs’ time at Apple is marked with extremely successful product innovation, marketing, and business execution in the technology industry.

Steve Ballmer started with Microsoft in 1980 as its 30th employee. In 2000, Bill Gates stepped down as CEO to focus on philanthropy, and Ballmer was chosen as successor. His main contribution to innovation at Microsoft was the strategic move into video gaming with the Xbox line of products.


Steve Jobs’ tenure as Apple’s CEO overlapped with Steve Ballmer’s term from 2001 to 2011. During this time, they led their companies in vastly different ways and achieved vastly different results. The stock charts of AAPL and MSFT speak for themselves:

AAPL Chart 2001-2011

AAPL Chart, Sep 2001-2011, +4815%

MSFT Chart 2001-2011

MSFT Chart, Sep 2001-2011, +22%


There are countless traits and habits of good CEOs and bad ones. However, in the technology industry, a focus on innovation is paramount. By its nature, technology is constantly building upon itself and reinventing business models.

Steve Jobs has always been focused on innovation and what the future will look like. Steve Ballmer, on the other hand, seems more concerned with defending the status quo. This stark difference is very apparent in their quotes about the nature of the internet.

“There will be web dial tone everywhere.” –Steve Jobs, Wired Magazine 1996

“Let’s face it, the Internet was designed for the PC. The Internet is not designed for the iPhone.” –Steve Ballmer, Business Insider 2009

Subsequent Results

In 2014, Steve Ballmer stepped down as Microsoft’s CEO and Satya Nadella took over. Tim Cook had been serving as Apple’s CEO since Steve Jobs’ passing in 2011. We won’t analyze their styles in this article, but according to the stock charts, they have both performed similarly from 2014-2019.

Photo of Tim Cook
Apple Chart 2019

AAPL Chart, 2014-2019, +359%

Photo of Satya Nadella
MSFT Chart 2019

MSFT Chart, 2014-2019, +376%



Steve Jobs

Beginning stock price $0.13 (Jul 30, 1997)
Ending stock price $11.67 (Oct 5, 2011)
Percentage gain 8876%
Length of tenure 14.2 years
Annualized gain 624% / yr
Magnifina Rating

*Stock prices are adjusted for splits and dividends

Steve Ballmer

Beginning stock price $34.41 (Jan 13, 2000)
Ending stock price $31.51 (Feb 4, 2014)
Percentage loss -8.4%
Length of tenure 14.07 years
Annualized gain -0.59% / yr
Magnifina Rating

*Stock prices are adjusted for splits and dividends

This article is part of our series of CEO Case Studies. Researching company leadership is an important part of our approach to investing.

Please note that market data used in this article is provided by a 3rd party and is only meant for the purpose of comparing CEO performance. It should not be relied upon for investing.

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