No. 6: Steve Jobs

Before Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple on August 24, he had seen unprecedented sales for the “magical and revolutionary” iPad 2. Two days after he resigned, Apple became, briefly, the world’s most valuable company. The iPhone 4S, announced on October 4, the day before Jobs died, broke the company’s record for single-day pre-orders.

In a year filled with CEO exits, Jobs’s legacy stands out. He has been compared to other iconic leaders who have become household names: Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Walt Disney. He set the bar high for how to run a company successfully — and get recognition for it. When Jobs stepped down as CEO, he had a 97% approval rate among Apple employees. The number is impressive when compared to those of current leaders like Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer (40%) or outgoing ones like MTV’s Judy McGrath (a respectable 76%) or HP’s Leo Apotheker (25%).

What made Jobs so successful? Many say it was his strong combination of charisma, persistent attention to detail, and never being satisfied with “good enough.” Underlying those was his obsession with design, a sense of ethereal modernism, Buddhist simplicity, and a distaste for buttons. Jobs understood customers and what they wanted before they knew it themselves.

Dedicated following
These qualities led to sleek gadgets that created a dedicated following. People camped out overnight to get their hands on Apple’s latest products. Jobs continually pushed the envelope to keep his company ahead of the rest. “If anybody’s going to make our products obsolete,” he once said, “I want it to be us.”

But for Jobs, the objective wasn’t just creating elegant new gadgets; it was creating simplified ways for people to communicate, interact, and share things with one another.

“The iMac begat a digital hub strategy with iTunes, which begat the iPod,” noted Steven Levy, in a profile on Jobs. “The music player eventually served as a launchpad for the iPhone, which in turn evolved into the first massively successful tablet, the iPad. And the iPad’s innovations are now inspiring Apple’s computers.”

Jobs’s charisma
But it was his charisma that gave Jobs cultural resonance. He connected with consumers on a personal level and showed them the world as he saw it. “Tech visionaries and engineers generally don’t make great orators, let alone presenters,” wrote Melissa J. Perenson. “Steve Jobs shattered that mold, with a dynamic presence and charisma that could resonate in an intimate auditorium, or enthrall thousands in the multisection hall at the Worldwide Developers Conference.”

When Jobs died, Apple Stores around the world became memorials, as millions of customers posted sticky notes with their messages of remembrance on store windows. Tribute videos poured into YouTube; Twitter could barely handle the number of tweets. Many thanked Jobs for his innovations, saying these had changed their lives. Others shared memories of their first Apple product. Searches on Yahoo! probed into his personal life, as people tried to get a sense of his legacy by watching his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, researching his background, and asking about the family he left behind.

Although Jobs was known for keeping his personal life private, he had authorized a biography. “I wanted my kids to know me,” Jobs said in an interview with his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

The book, which became a bestseller nine months before it was released, came out the same month as his death.

His final words, which his sister shared with the world, captured the wonder of how he lived and what he shared: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Torrey AndersonSchoepe is a news and social media editor for Yahoo! News. She also follows business, economic, and financial news and has written a variety of stories for Yahoo! News, including an in-depth profile on the last man out of the South Tower of the World Trade Center for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Follow her on Twitter @torrey_ynews and subscribe to her on Facebook.