September 26, 2023

The lesser-known Apple co-founder owned ⅓ of the company, but missed out on a potential $900 billion fortune

With the late Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Apple inc.‘s co-founders, who dominated the tech world for decades, it’s easy to overlook the crucial role played by a lesser-known figure: Mike Markkula.

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While Jobs and Wozniak were in the spotlight, Markkula’s contributions to Apple’s success were no less important. From angel investor to CEO and chairman, Markkula’s journey with Apple demonstrated his belief in the power of PCs.

Born on February 11, 1942, in Los Angeles, Markkula was no stranger to the world of technology. Armed with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, this Trojan brother was already well versed in the intricacies of the field. Markkula’s Career at Fairchild Semiconductor International Inc. and Intel Corp., where he retired a millionaire at the age of 32, showcased his deep knowledge of the tech landscape.

It was during a meeting with Jobs and Wozniak that Markkula’s trajectory took a significant turn. Seeing the potential of the Apple II computer, Markkula’s imagination soared. Fueling his conviction with action, Markkula came out of retirement in 1977 and became an angel investor in Apple. His $250,000 investment, a combination of loans and equity, cemented his position as the nascent company’s second CEO, third employee, and a significant one-third owner. By 2023, a one-third stake in Apple would be worth about $900 billion.

This unfortunate reality for Markkula highlights an important lesson for investors and the overall potential of long-term investments and the lucrative yet volatile nature of startups. For example, despite the recent decline in venture capital, private investors have invested more than $1 billion through startup investment platforms like StartEngine.

The impact of Markkula

Markkula, eight years older than Wozniak and 13 years older than Jobs, brought a mature perspective and technical prowess. His contributions to Apple’s early innovations, including writing several programs for the Apple II and beta testing hardware and software, further cemented his interest in the company.

Markkula’s business expertise breathed new life into Apple’s business. He orchestrated credit arrangements and secured vital venture capital investments, propelling the company forward.

With the appointment of CEO Michael Scott as Apple’s first president and CEO, Markkula’s vision for a Fortune 500 company began to take shape. He believed they could achieve that goal within five years. In May 1983, Apple debuted on the Fortune 500 list at number 411. Apple became the fastest growing company in history.

Apple’s sales skyrocketed, rising from $773,000 in 1977 to $117 million in 1980, the year of the company’s IPO. Markkula’s equity investment yielded a profit of 220.552%, making his shares worth $203 million.

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As CEO himself from 1981 to 1983 and later chairman of the board from 1985 to 1997, Markkula proved to be the steady hand that guided Apple through turbulent waters. He played a vital role in preserving the Macintosh plan, even as Jobs tried several times to derail it in favor of his own project Lisa.

Markkula’s continued support for Macintosh and his alignment with John Sculley, Apple’s CEO from 1983 to 1993, during a critical dispute with Jobs eventually led to Jobs’ departure from the company.

A 1996 article reported that Markkula had sold 500,000 shares, representing 14% of his stake in the company. But he still retained 3.1 million shares, making him the largest individual shareholder at the time. The sale was attributed to “personal reasons”, as stated by an Apple spokeswoman, although no further details were provided.

Despite his retirement from Apple in 1997, shortly after Jobs’s triumphant return as interim CEO, Markkula’s influence has continued to resonate. He supported Jobs’s comeback and, more importantly, left a legacy of sharp decision-making. Markkula’s intuition, especially when it came to the PC market, proved perfect.

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