9 October 2011
Typing away on my iMac, plugged into iTunes on my iPhone, it’s difficult to comprehend how he did it.
Every now and then, along comes someone special. They are special because they see the challenge and not the uphill struggle.
There is no doubt, Jobs was aiming high. He enticed John Sculley away from Pepsi-Cola to serve as Apple’s CEO, asking, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
To change the world, you have to set out with this objective and it’s clear that, early on, Jobs understood the balance that style plays in the role of marketing and brand development. He understood that the creation of the brand is as much about the people within the heart of the organisation as it is about the style of the product you develop. In fact, it’s absolutely integral to developing the most cutting edge, coolest, sexiest products. The people within the organisation have to feel that inspiration first.
He went that extra mile though and made a clan out his customers buying Apple, who chose their product as much for their design as for the design of the software.
It looks like the future was more important than the product itself. A little like the positioning of the great athletes, focussing on the outcome of a game or an event, Jobs focussed on designing something so futuristic that your mind did the rest and filled in the blanks. Many clever devices, more sophisticated than Apple’s, have fallen by the wayside simply because they didn’t look authentic.
Described as a perfectionist, there are conflicting stories about Jobs’ management style. His own office describes him as having calmed down significantly over the years. During his role at NeXT, he was described as aggressive; very different to the team at Pixar, who classed him as a “mature, mellow individual”, and a man who never interfered with the creative process of the filmmakers.
There is no doubt that whatever his temperament – and it was most certainly artistic – he was a leader who’d never settle until things were done the best way possible.
Jobs had a reputation as a workaholic and, in his early years, fell out with fellow directors at Apple for holding meetings that went on into the early hours and rescheduling impromptu ones the next morning at 7.30am. After an internal power struggle developed, ironically between Jobs and Sculley – the man he’d brought in as CEO, Apple’s board of directors sided with Sculley and removed Jobs from his managerial duties as head of the Macintosh division. Jobs resigned from Apple 5 months later and founded NeXT the same year.
Jobs claimed that being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him; “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
It was almost a decade before his NeXT software venture (pun intended) turned a profit of $1.03m in 1994. Two years later they were back on Apple’s radar with the release of WebObjects, a framework for web application development. Apple bought Jobs’ business for $429 million in 1996 and used WebObjects to build and run the Apple and iTunes Store.
After leaving Apple, back in 1986, he acquired a failing business, The Graphics Group (later renamed Pixar) from Lucasfilm’s for $10m.
He negotiated a deal with Disney to produce a number of computer-animated feature films that Disney would co-finance and distribute.
The first Toy Story, brought immediate fame and critical acclaim to the studio back in 1995. Since then, under Pixar’s creative chief John Lasseter, the company continues to create hit after hit of uniquely styled animated genius. This is testament to a great creative leader whose leap forward in inspirational animation is still the benchmark to all future animators long after his death.
In the year 2004, Jobs announced that Pixar would seek a new partner to distribute its films once its contract with Disney expired.
It was no secret that Jobs and the then Disney chief executive didn’t get on. On January 24, 2006, Jobs and a new CEO Iger announced that Disney had agreed to purchase Pixar in a transaction worth $7.4 billion, making Jobs The Walt Disney Company’s largest single shareholder.
Jobs had a habit of speaking his mind openly. After publically criticizing Dell for making “un-innovative beige boxes”, Dell Computer’s CEO Michael Dell, responded when asked what he would do if he owned then-troubled Apple Computer at a Gartner convention. He said “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” In 2006, Jobs sent an email to all employees when Apple’s market capitalization rose above Dell’s. The email read:
Team, it turned out that Michael Dell wasn’t perfect at predicting the future. Based on today’s stock market close, Apple is worth more than Dell. Stocks go up and down, and things may be different tomorrow, but I thought it was worth a moment of reflection today. Steve.
The dig between the lines for me is the reference to Dell’s lack of ability to predict the future, and not his ability to predict finances.
Jobs was far more interested in innovation, putting the Apple products at the forefront of the technology world.
He quotes an old ice-hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will.”
Shakespeare said that “True love cannot be measured” and this is true for Jobs’ passion and love for creating a difference. His contribution is incalculable; but there is maybe one word that describes the sum of all his efforts and conjures up his remarkable work; Apple.