Lessons from Steve Jobs

by Michael on August 24, 2011 · 0 comments

Steve Jobs, proud papa of the iPad.

Today was a sad, although not unanticipated, day for anyone appreciative of technology and its role in our lives: Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO:

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

You don’t need me to recount the changes in our society Apple has been responsible for. The company revolutionized home computing in the ’80s with the original Mac. After his return in 1997, Jobs and the company he founded simply owned the 2000s, and have moved the world forward immeasurably. From the iMac to the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad, Apple recognized needs and then filled them in ways most technology companies simply hadn’t thought of (but were always quick to both copy and build on, from Windows to Android).

He made his company’s stock the poster child for coveted investments, and even started a side venture that has created some of the most beloved animated films of all time. He was a workaholic, sent often terse responses to e-mails from customers and may be one of the most famous examples of a control freak since the days of kings and emperors (one former employee quipped, “he’d make an excellent King of France”), but it can’t be denied that he’s a classic alpha male.

What made his time with Apple, and his “side” businesses like NeXT and Pixar, so fruitful?

Passion

Jobs was driven to create the best products he could, taking new technologies and moving them forward. He wanted to ditch “beige boxes,” creating the original iMac, a colorful machine with curved lines and the screen and computer in a single piece. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but none with the same sleek white case (and identifiable white earbuds—you could spot another iPod user a block away) and easy interface for uploading music.

People screamed at first when the iMac appeared with no floppy drive, and when the MacBook Air included no CD/DVD drive. In both cases, Apple dragged us into the future, whether we liked it or not, and today we use thumb drives and the Internet for moving files and installing software. Multitasking and Flash were available for “smart phones” prior to the iPhone, but Jobs felt they caused more problems than they solved, and refused to use either in the early versions of the iPhone.

Other companies tie themselves up in knots with features based on focus groups; Jobs focuses not on what’s wanted, but on what’s needed.

If you’ve ever watched one of his keynotes, you’ve seen his love for his products and company. And you won’t find many CEOs of giant corporations who are nearly as well-versed in the actual use of their products as Jobs has demonstrated in those keynotes. And he returned to give those keynotes with amazing speed after both his treatment for pancreatic cancer and subsequent liver transplant.

And when he was “in exile” from the company he founded, he kept his passion alive, creating a company called NeXT, and developing the operating system that would become Mac OS X. He also bought a hardware company called Pixar and turned them into a computer animation studio with Toy Story.

Delegation

Despite his control-freak nature, Jobs understands he can’t do it all himself. When he returned to Apple, he sought out people who were experts in their field and relied on them for key roles. One of Jobs’ first major hires was Phil Schiller, a marketing executive at Macromedia who actually had a programming background. Jonathan Ive, the man behind the iconic design of most of Apple’s modern products, had considered quitting Apple after the company rejected his designs for a new all-in-one computer. Years later, Jobs returned and used the designs to create the original iMac.

Confidence

Jobs has what may be the most famous compensation agreement in the corporate world, taking a salary of exactly one dollar per year. His financial stake in Apple consists of stock options—just over 10 million shares, granted between 1997 and 2003—that were worth around $20 per share in 2001, the year the iPod was released. As of today those shares are worth $376.18 apiece.

One way to look at it is that Jobs felt that if he couldn’t lift the company out of near-failure, he didn’t deserve to be paid. But the more likely scenario is that Jobs knew what he could do and chose compensation based on that confidence.

Yes, it comes out like arrogance at times, but Jobs has quite literally put his money where his mouth is.

It’s likely that deteriorating health is the reason he’s stepped down as CEO (he’s retaining his position as Chairman, as well as his board position at Disney), so I wish him the best life possible in whatever time he has remaining. The world will miss him.

A small glimpse at what he’s done: here’s the introduction of the iPod, circa 2001.

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