Few executives in modern business lore are as inspirational (or aspirational) as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) co-founder Steve Jobs, and for good reason.
Beyond his best-known work at Apple, Jobs helped launch other impactful companies such as Next and Pixar. He also gained fans the world over for his passionate business philosophy.
However, Jobs' influence extends well beyond the returns his companies produced for investors, although those are certainly compelling in their own right. So what are some companies that Jobs himself might admire?
Jobs' career and philosophy emphasized a number of consistent themes, which I'll use here in listing three candidates.
Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX):
Jobs repeatedly said Apple's focus on operating at "the intersection of technology and liberal arts" is what makes it such a special company. It's easy to see how Netflix very clearly embodies that same idea given its increasingly large focus on original content.
Even as it has created a truly impressive product, Netflix has never stopped pushing the envelope within its chosen industry of DVD mailing and (more crucially today) streaming video. Netflix's move into original content has helped redefine the media landscape and keep the company steps ahead of a growing number of copycat competitors. For a whole host of reasons, it's hard to see Steve Jobs disapproving of the immensely successful work Netflix's executive team has done over the years.
I'm by no means the first to note the many parallels between electric-car maker Tesla and Apple. However, even if the comparison might lack originality, it's probably not unreasonable to argue Jobs would have approved of the work CEO Elon Musk and company are undertaking at Tesla.
Like Jobs' aim in his own work, Tesla's mission is to introduce a highly disruptive product to a mass audience. That might not sound like a major feat, but attempting to drive a fundamental shift in the way the automotive industry works is about as lofty a goal as exists in business today. Tesla and Musk have attacked these goals with a bravado reminiscent of Jobs in his prime.
Rather than have me tell you, here's what Steve Jobs said of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to biographer Walter Isaacson: "I admire Mark Zuckerberg. I only know him a little bit, but I admire him for not selling out. For wanting to make a company. I admire that a lot."
In the years since Jobs' death, Facebook has flourished to an extent beyond what many imagined even five years ago. The company has solidified its place as the de facto social media platform. In doing so, it has created one of the most powerful online advertising platforms in the world, with more than $12 billion in sales last year and plenty of room for sustained growth. However, per his quote, Jobs clearly admired Zuckerberg for his conviction in wanting to make Facebook something special, not just another moneymaking machine (although that doesn't hurt, either). In that vein, I'm sure Jobs would approve of some of the bold, but increasingly prescient-seeming, acquisitions that Zuckerberg has made to keep Facebook at the forefront of the way people connect online.
Obviously, creating this list involved a fair degree of subjectivity. However, having studied Jobs and Apple for more years than I can remember at this point, I think I have a fair sense of what's appropriate here. It's also worth noting that these three names are by no means the only companies that would have likely earned Jobs' stamp of approval. But if you're looking for a few ideas about which companies would likely earn the blessing of one of business's most iconic CEOs, you can't go wrong with any of the names here.
Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Facebook, Netflix, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Facebook, Netflix, and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.