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Copyright 2011 by John T. Reed
On 10/6/11, the San Francisco Chronicle headlined a photo of Steve Jobs captioned “The man who saw the future.”
Saw the future!? Steve Jobs did not see the future. He chose the future! He decided what the future should be and made it so.
You would think the San Francisco Chronicle, of all papers, would understand Steve Jobs, whose adult life played out so famously in Silicon Valley, a few miles south of San Francisco. That caption almost completely misses the point of Steve Jobs.
My focus on Jobs is that he was perhaps the greatest leader of our time. My undergraduate alma mater, West Point, fancies itself the world’s greatest leadership school. Its parent organization, the U.S. Army, constantly runs recruiting ads promising to make you a leader if you join.
What is a leader? Someone who causes people to do that which they ought to do but which they would not do in his absence.
A leader is someone who shows the way. Of course, in order to show the way, you must first know the way.
Leaders make good things happen.
Along with Steve Wozniak, Jobs founded Apple Computer. At one of the early West Coast Computer Faires in San Francisco, Jobs was demonstrating the Apple II and one of the eager geek nobodies in the group gathered around him was Bill Gates.
Current boy billionaires who are often mentioned in the same sentence with Jobs like Gates and Bezos and Zuckerberg were not fit to shine Jobs’ shoes. Gates had the extreme luck to be given exclusive ownership of the PC operating system by IBM. For all their wealth accumulation thus far, Bezos and Zuckerberg have fundamentally flawed business models. Amazon is a contradiction in terms: an Internet middleman when the Internet’s main function is to eliminate middlemen. Zuckerberg had a mildly good idea that no one really needs him to execute and he has no copyright or patent on it to stop competitors.
Steve Jobs was the real deal.
In recent years, Apple’s market cap (total number of shares multiplied by their current market price) exceeded that of Microsoft. Jobs commented that was “surreal.” Even more recently, the market cap of Apple exceeded the market caps of evey other company in the universe! I do not know if he commented on that.
When Apple went public 12/12/80, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts banned its citizens from buying the stock because it was “overpriced.” The IPO generated more capital than any since Ford Motor Company went public in 1956.
The IPO price that Massachusetts bureacurats “knew” was too high was $22 per share. It was at $377.64 at one PM on 10/6/11. Apple also paid dividends from 6/15/87 to 12/15/95. They have also done three 2-for-1 stock splits in 1987, 2000, and 2005. If you reverse the stock splits for calculating lifetime return, each share of Apple would now be worth 2 x 2 x 2 x $377.64 = $3,021.12. And the liberals still want the government to tell businesses how to operate!
Jobs also pulled off the greatest comeback in business history. After he was forced out of Apple in 1985, the company faltered and started losing money. Jobs was gone for eleven years. In his absence, they had three different CEOs. While away, he created the Next computer and Pixar. The operating system of the Next became the Apple operating system later and is still the basis for the current Mac OSX system. He bought what became Pixar from George Lucas for $10 million then sold it to Disney for $7 billion. In real estate investment, that’s known as a fixer upper. Jobs was Disney’s largest shareholder.
I began studying computers as a freshman in college in 1964. I was the training director of a real estate brokerage company in 1973 when we became the first computerized brokerage in our metro area. I continued to use computers in graduate school from 1975 to 1977. I got my first computer, a TRS-80 in 1980. I rejected the Apple II as more of a toy. There was no PC then. When the Mac came out in 1984, I got one. I was a publisher and the Mac was the only computer that could use Adobe Post-Script, the basis for desktop publishing. PCs were out by then but could not do publishing. Shortly thereafter, the first Apple LaserWriter came out and I got one of those. We have been all Apple since then. I currently have five MacIntoshes.
In other words, I do use Apple products, but not because of any love affair with Jobs the person. I rejected his products when they deserved to be rejected and bought them when they offered the best value for my needs. I have a non-Apple Anrdoid phone and have never seen the value of an iPad which I think is betwixt and between useful size.
When Jobs came back to Apple in 1996, the company initially continued to struggle, then it took off so much in areas like music and phones that they dropped the word “Computers” from the company name. One thing Jobs did to pull off the comeback was to partner with hated competitior Microsoft. The crowd booed when he announced it. But it showed a flexibility that leaders need.
Jobs 2.0 brought Apple far more success than Jobs 1.0, which had enough success to be a business Hall of Fame legend.
Has Jobs been a jerk at times? Yes. See the made-for-TV movie biography of him.
Has he made mistakes? Yes. He hired Pepsico CEO John Sculley to be CEO. Sculley’s main impact was to then force Jobs out of the company, I surmise because he “did not play well with others,” especially empty suits like Sculley.
Jobs’ choice of company name and logo and corporate image turned off businessmen, thereby handing the entire business market to IBM and Microsoft on a silver platter.
Jobs similarly allowed the PC and Windows to have the game market.
Next Computer was a relative flop although very influential. Also, Jobs sold that company to Apple for $429 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock. At my house, we would not call $429 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple a mistake. But being a part-time jerk and making mistakes does not contradict that he was a leader. Leaders lead, period. They are not perfect in every other aspect of their lives. Don’t be distracted by the fact that politicians claim to be leaders and attack each other’s slightest imperfections as evidence of non-leadership.
The Harvard Business School Association of Silicon Valley gives an annual award for innovation. I attended the night Jobs won his third, for the iPod. He had previously won for the Macintosh and Pixar. At that point, no one else had won more than once. I do not know, but I would expect that Jobs won at least two more of them for the iPhone and iPad.
I wrote an article about leadership. I said it has some mechanical aspects that anyone can learn, like our learning how to give parade commands at West Point. And West Point graduates are likley to take charge of a situation where someone needs to do so and no one else is inclined to. But my main point was that leaders are born not made.
Jobs did not learn how to be a leader at West Point or in the Army. He was an adopted child whose biological parents later married each other. They are still alive. His biological father is Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian Muslim immigrant to the U.S., and his mother, Joanne Schieble, is a Swiss-German-American. Jobs dropped out of Reed College (no relation to me) after one semester, but one calligraphy course he attended there had a profound effect on his famous design sense. I see absolutely nothing in his early life that one could construe as leadership training or experience.
Not only did Jobs not go to a leadership school like West Point, he could not have. He and West Point would have attacked each other the way antibodies in the blood attack foreign substances. That did not happen to me at West Point, but it surely did in the Army officer corps. Notwithstanding how much it contrasts with their “build leaders” recuriting pitch, the U.S. military cannot handle leaders. You get to hold “leadership” positions in the U.S. military solely by being a great follower—“great” in this instance meaning sucking up and going along to get along. Steve Jobs would never have made first lieutenant, let along general, in the U.S. military. And correspondingly, no former general I know of has done well in business other than to get appointed to some pre-existing high positions.
Like I said, Steve Jobs was probably the greatest leader of our time. His life shows where leaders come from. Everywhere. And how they are prepared—by onthing that we can identify. The challenge for those who would benefit from leaders is to identify and encourage, not stifle, them. The challenge for leaders themselves is to get into a situatiton where they can persist and fail and avoid being stifled by bureaucracy. My Succeeding book has a lot about changing what you can change about yourself and, with regard to things you cannot change, like the things that made Steve Jobs a leader, moving to a situation where the things you cannot change do not stop you.
What motivated Jobs? He famously said that he wanted to make “insanely great” products, and he did.
Don’t all corporate CEOs say they want to make great products? Yes.
Do any of them mean it other than Jobs? Not that I can think of off-hand. It’s just so much corporate blah blah when anyone other than Jobs says it. What other corporate empty suit CEOs are really about is status, prestige, power, money, my salary’s bigger than yours. They only pay lip service to great products.
Jobs was Apple and Apple was Jobs. At other corporations, the CEOs are sort of temps whose main skill is getting the board to hire them then replacing the board with cronies so they can stay.
Did Jobs want to create the world’s most valuable corporation? No. He never even conceived of such a thing. It just happened as a by-product of creating “insanely great” products.
Jobs is one of the few great successes that stands as a testament to the idea that merit matters. That it is not all just one big cynial corporate politics game.
On 6/8/11, there was discussion in the paper that the masses who loved Steve want a public memorial service where they can show their respects and affection. Initial indications are that Apple is surprised by this.
And that neither Apple nor Jobs’s family wants to do such a thing.
If this sort of exteme tin ear is any indication of the future, it wasn’t just Jobs who died. It was also Apple, Inc.
Around the day Jobs died, Charlie Rose reran an interview he did with Jobs and John Lasseter when Jobs was CEO of Pixar. What a delight. The salient thing to me was that Jobs had CEO after his name, but he talked entirely like a regular guy. He had no filter. He answered the question honestly and never thought about whether he should modify the answer for some political or business reason. When Rose tried to talk about how to persuade the stock market that Pixar was a more valuable company, Jobs just said that would be taken care of by the results, that is, the movies Pixar made, over the long term and he was content to wait until then. I love people who are results oriented and hate those who are process oriented. Jobs was all results.
John T. Reed