SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Jobs — domineering, short-tempered and anything but warm and fuzzy — has done something few business people in history have accomplished: engender genuine affection.
His decision to step down as chief executive of Apple brought people to tears, inspired loving tributes to him on the Web and even had some adoring customers flocking to Apple stores Thursday to share their sentiments with other fans of Macs, iPhones and iPads.
“Through the mist in my eyes, I am having a tough time focusing on the screen of this computer,” wrote Om Malik, the prominent technology blogger. “I want to wake up and find it was all a nightmare.”
Andrew Baughen, a church vicar from London who paused during his San Francisco vacation to shop at an Apple store after he heard the news, said he was praying for Jobs.
Apple, he said, “is not a corporation. It’s more like a family, a movement. I’d like to meet him in heaven and say, ‘Thank you.’”
Business leaders, whether fictional like Ebenezer Scrooge and Gordon Gekko or real like Rupert Murdoch or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, are usually regarded with considerably less warmth, as rapacious rather than revered.
“It’s unusual right here, right now, given that Americans’ feelings about business are just north of their feelings about Congress,” said Nancy F. Koehn, a historian at Harvard Business School.
That Jobs is seriously ill gave the tributes a poignancy and sense of foreboding. But the aloof man in a black turtleneck — who spent the past month on a yacht with his family, according to people with knowledge of his whereabouts — also managed to foster familial emotions among those who work in technology and business and ordinary people who use Apple products.
“Every decade or so, an icon emerges who both has a Midas touch and is in an industry that is in our collective consciousness,” said Jon Kulok, co-founder of Edge Research, a marketing research firm for corporations and nonprofits. “However, unlike those figures, he goes out at the top of his game, and some of the commentary today reflects his going out on top.”
There were hundreds of thousands of messages shared online about Jobs after his announcement Wednesday, nearly all of them positive, according to NetBase, which analyzes social media commentary. On Twitter, many of the posts expressed love for Jobs, an emotion that rarely surfaces in business chatter.
Part of the reason, analysts said, is that people love Apple products in a way that they do not love other products they use everyday, whether toothbrushes, toasters or BlackBerrys. And Jobs as a chief executive is uniquely connected to Apple’s creations.
“What makes Steve Jobs particularly special is it’s as if he personally handed you an iPhone and an iPad. So to many consumers it feels like a gift from a family member,” said Jon A. Krosnick, a social psychologist at Stanford University.
As a result, Apple customers feel like they have a personal connection with the man, even though the company is highly secretive and Jobs is very private.
While Jobs’ business style — he is well-known for terse emails and browbeating tactics — has earned him critics over the years, even many of them stopped to praise him Thursday.
Nick Bilton and Matt Richtel contributed reporting.