Apple went public on December 12, 1980. I bet almost no one reading this was either born yet or was no more than about 10 or 12 years old. In short, we were all too young to take advantage of that fortuitous date in history, buy shares, and be reaping the roughly 40,000% increase today. A relatively small investment of $10,000 back in 1980 (which is equivalent to more than $31k today), you'd have $3.95 million worth of Apple stock. Not bad by a long shot – it would buy you a gorgeous house with a pool in a good neighborhood of Los Angeles today – but it's not anywhere near what early Apple employee Mike Markkula is worth today. Most people have never heard of Markkula, but the fact is, without him, I would not be writing this article on a MacBook pro or calling my friends from my iPhone 11, or reading on my iPad. Markkula was as critical to the early success of Apple as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Mike Markkula was born on February 11, 1942, in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of Southern California (fight on Trojan brother!) with a bachelor's degree and master's degree in electrical engineering. He worked for Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, where he has stock options that allowed him to retire in 1974 as a millionaire at 32. He was introduced to the Steves – Jobs and Wozniak, of course, when they were looking for funding to produce the Apple II computer they had designed. They had success with the first version of the computer, the Apple I. Markkula has a deep understanding of technology and imagined the possibility of personal computers years earlier. He was intrigued by Jobs and Wozniak. And then they showed him the Apple II. In a 1992 interview with WGBH Boston, Markkula said: "I looked at it, and I said this is the first affordable useful computer for people."
Jobs and Wozniak not only had no money, but they had no actual experience business. Markkula helped the Steves write a business plan. As the three men went through that process, he quickly realized they had a potential Fortune 500 company. He thought they could accomplish that in about five years. Markkula came out of retirement and got to work getting Apple organized as a proper company. Markkula also decided early on that Apple would not be bringing in outside capital.
Instead, he came out of retirement in 1977 and became an angel investor. He gave Apple $250,000 in total – with $170,000 as a loan and $80,000 as an equity investment. Markkula became employee number three and a one-third owner of the fledgling company. Wozniak actually gives Markkula more credit for the success of Apple than he takes for himself and Woz designed the first two Apple computers.
Markkula brought his expertise in business to Apple, he helped the company get credit and venture capital investments. He brought in executive Michael Scott as the company's first president and CEO. He was Apple's 2nd CEO from 1981 to 1983. Markkula was also chairman of Apple's board of directors from 1985 to 1997, despite the fact that when he went out of retirement to join Apple in 1977, he promised his wife he'd only work for four years. He was the longest-serving chairman of Apple's board. He stepped down when a new board was brought in after Steve Jobs returned to the company.
During his years as chairman, Markkula kept the Macintosh plan alive when Jobs tried to kill it multiple times. Markkula believed in Jef Raskin's Macintosh plan. Jobs wanted it killed in favor of his own project, Lisa. Then, in 1984 when Lisa failed, Jobs strong-armed himself into the Macintosh project. The following year, Markkula sided with John Sculley in a dispute with Jobs. That's when Jobs left Apple. Basically, Markkula was the "adult supervision" to Jobs and Wozniak. Markkula was eight years older than Wozniak and 13 years older than Jobs. He was a trained engineer who wrote several of the early programs for the Apple II. He was a beta tester for Apple hardware and software. He was responsible for many of the innovations during Apple's early days.
Markkula retired from Apple in 1997, not long after Jobs returned to the company as interim CEO in 1996. Markkula supported Jobs return.
Throughout his tenure at Apple, Markkula's instincts were spot on. Even when former colleagues from Intel made fun of him because they didn't believe there was a market for the personal computer. Markkula had the last laugh. In 1977, Apple had sales of $773,000. In 1978, sales were $7.86 million. In 1979, sales were $47.87 million. In 1980, the year Apple made its IPO, sales had almost tripled from the year before to $117 million. When Apple went public, Markkula owned seven million shares. At the end of the first day of trading, his shares were worth $203 million. That was a 220,552% gain on his equity investment in just four years.
Today, Mike Markkula is 78 years old and has a net worth of $1.2 billion.