Imagine if you bought Apple stock in 1997

Imagine if you bought Apple stock in 1997

Imagine if you bought Apple stock in 1997. Buying 100 shares back then was a fairly small investment that would have brought big returns. Steve Jobs is clearly one of the most universally admired chief executives in history. But it wasn't always that way.

He didn't have the faith of investors back in 1997, when he returned to Apple Computer. The company was barely hanging on, and when Jobs was named interim chief executive in September, the stock price was around $21.81 (or $5.45 adjusted for splits).

What if you had believed in him back then? What if you had bought 100 shares and sold them on Aug. 24, 2011, the day Jobs resigned as CEO?

Apple (AAPL) shares gained nearly 6,700% in that time. And those 100 shares? They eventually turned into 400, and you would have come away with a cool $150,000 or so before taxes.

That investment would have required a lot of patience, however. Apple's share price stayed below a split-adjusted $8 until 2003. Then it began a slow climb until a 2-for-1 stock split in 2005. After that, the stock had more explosions than a Michael Bay movie.

The big question, of course, is what will happen to Apple shares now. Chief executive Tim Cook, an operations whiz who has been at the company since 1998, seems to have maintained investor confidence. Shares have dipped only about 1.6% since Jobs resigned -- and that's even after this week's ho-hum debut of the iPhone 4S. Shares closed Friday down 2% to $369.80.

One of a CEO's most important duties is to build a company that performs even after his or her departure, and Jobs likely did that very well. So investors are sticking with Apple even after its tremendous loss.