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“Dear Steve, Thank You”: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

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Dear Steve,

I never got to write you to say goodbye.

At the time of your death in October 2011, and for many months after, so much was written and said about you that I didn’t want to join the bandwagon. I wanted to let some time pass, to watch and learn, and to collect my thoughts. I’d always meant to write you, though, and now that things are much quieter — and at an interesting place in history — well, I wanted to thank you, and to convey a few thoughts.

First off, I always was, am, and always will be a fan. In our 1999 book, The Motley Fool’s Rule Breakers, Rule Makers, on page 84 I wrote: “But before I even start, I want to make a confession: I’m a Steve Jobs guy.”

(I didn’t know that nine years later you would kick off the “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” campaign with very similar language — while I wasn’t “a Mac” till 2008, I was a Jobs guy from much earlier.)

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)I closed that section with the following:

Relevant aftermath: Jobs is currently back at Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) as interim CEO. … Since the resignation of the last official CEO, Gil Amelio, in July 1997, Apple’s stock has as of fall 1998 risen from $14 to $37, an increase of 164% that outperforms the S&P 500 by a factor of five. Whatever happens — and I’m actually a bull here because I believe in The Man — it’s a darned interesting story to follow.

I didn’t know at the time that your stock, when split-adjusted, would rise 4,800% from there to today — a 49-bagger, and that’s even after Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares are down 36% from their 52-week high. I didn’t actually get around to recommending your stock to our membership until January 2008, which means I personally have enjoyed only a 181% return on my belief in Apple — which is still 153 percentage points ahead of the S&P 500. (I know I’m talking about the stock a lot, but in addition to being a Jobs guy, I’m even more a stocks guy.)

I wanted to thank you for a story you told my brother and me at the Businessweek conference we also spoke at in the 1990s. You were talking about criticism you were taking for spending one full day out of every week — despite being CEO of both Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Pixar — just doing job interviews for new hires. You asked the audience why you did it. I will always remember your answer.

Paraphrased, you said that most of the world thinks that someone who’s “really good” is about 3 times as good as an average employee. You said you disagreed. You said someone who’s “really good” is actually about 60 times as good as an average employee. And that’s why you spent 20% of your time just interviewing people. Because you believed that finding awesome people was a huge catalyst for the success of your companies.

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