Rockefeller, Carnegie, Lauder, Wedgwood -- and Steve Jobs?

Last Updated Nov 10, 2009 9:22 AM EST

Fortune magazine last week named Steve Jobs CEO of the Decade. It was not a tough decision apparently. In Fortune's also-in-the-running list were several CEOs who are in prison (Bernie Madoff, Jeff Skilling), another who was in prison (Martha Stewart) and several more who are not known as CEOs (Warren Buffett).

So Steve gets the nod. What I most enjoyed about this largely puff package, however, was a sidebar penned by Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn, who sizes up Jobs' legacy. She says he will most be remembered as an entrepreneur (not so much as an executive), along the likes of Josiah Wedgwood, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and Estée Lauder.

"Each of these people -- and especially Steve Jobs -- has been defined by the intense drive, unflagging curiosity, and keen commercial imagination that have allowed them to see products and industries and possibilities that might be. Each of these individuals has also been extremely hardworking, demanding of themselves and others. All have been compelled more by the significance of their own vision than by their doubts."
  • Like Lauder, Jobs has a talent for making, packaging, and marketing products that everyday consumers want.
  • Like Carnegie, Jobs is one of the most hands-on executives in business.
  • Like Rockefeller and Wedgwood, Jobs grew up in a time of tremendous social and technological upheaval, but understood the importance of the moment and the opportunities presented.
Do you agree that Jobs belongs in the pantheon of great business leaders who helped define our times?
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.