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 incAs the co-founder of , which 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 took the spotlight, Markkula's contributions to Apple's success were no less significant. From angel investor to CEO and chairman of the board, Markkula's journey with Apple demonstrated his belief in the power of personal computers.

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, demonstrated his deep understanding of the technology landscape.

During an encounter with Jobs and Wozniak, Markkula's trajectory took a significant turn. When Markkula saw the potential of the Apple II computer, his imagination soared. In order to reinforce his belief with action, Markkula came out of retirement in 1977 and became an angel investor in Apple. His $250,000 investment, a combination of debt and equity, solidified his position as second CEO, third employee and significant third owner of the burgeoning company. In 2023, a third stake in Apple would be worth about $900 billion.

This unfortunate reality for Markkula highlights an important lesson for investors and the general potential of longer-term investing, as well as the lucrative but volatile nature of startups. For example, despite the recent decline in venture capital, retail investors have invested over $1 billion through start-up investment platforms such as StartEngine.

Markula's influence

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 prominence in the company.

Markkula's business expertise breathes new life into Apple's business processes. He orchestrated loan agreements and secured key venture capital investments to propel the company forward.

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

Apple's sales skyrocketed: sales went from $773,000 in 1977 to $117 million in 1980, the year the company went public. Markkula's equity investment yielded a 220,552% return, making his shares worth $203 million.

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

Markkula's unwavering support for Macintosh and his association with John Sculley, Apple's CEO from 1983 to 1993, during a critical argument with Jobs eventually led to Jobs leaving the company.

A 1996 article reported that Markkula sold 500,000 shares, representing 14% of his stake in the company. However, he still retained 3.1 million shares, making it the largest single shareholder at the time. The sale was attributed to “personal reasons,” according to an Apple spokeswoman, but no further details were given.

Though he retired from Apple in 1997, shortly after Jobs' triumphant return as interim CEO, Markkula's influence continued to be felt. He supported Jobs' comeback and, more importantly, left a legacy of decisive people. Markkula's intuition, particularly when it came to the PC market, proved spot on.

For more information, see startup investments by Benzinga.

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