Steve Jobs: Earth's Irreplaceable ImpresarioA
s much as I have taken Steve Jobs to task on things I saw differently than he, my heart is broken.
Since I was 12, Steve Jobs has been my personal hero, and will remain so for the rest of my life.
We have enough data now to compare. We've seen the early Apple with Steve Jobs present before being forced out. The Apple where Steve Jobs was uncompromising with Stephen Wozniak on the industrial design of the Apple ][, especially how rounded its corners should be to combat a more intimidating, "squarish," high-tech "boxy" look; his uncompromising stand that it would have a full qwerty keyboard, a color display and bear the colorful Apple logo that was so costly to reproduce on the Apple ]['s plastic housing (housing which Steve fought for weeks over to get the exact shade of beige he wanted. After rejecting dozens of shades, the plastic maker had to create a customized shade, not in their inventory, specifically for Apple -- or, more appropriately, Jobs).
Steve Jobs wanted the Apple ][ to be approachable
by non-technical people; you'll never convince me otherwise
: the Apple ][ (not even the Apple 1) was the first personal computer
and NOT the hobbyists' kit, the all-assembly-required
Altair, with its toggle switches as its UI to program it in binary. (But what binary-programing geek would have any use for a qwerty keyboard anyway?) How "personal
" is that?!Apple invented the personal computer.
"The two Steves" wrested technology from the hands of one of society's outermost fringes (Computer Nerds) and made it accessable and less intimidating to "the great unwashed," or as Apple put it, "The rest of us."
(BTW, the multi-colored Apple logo was even costly to reproduce on paper
because of Steve Jobs' uncompromising stance on the color bands. Printing technology of the day made it almost impossible to produce such a logo where none of the color bands overlapped, nor could they leave the tiniest sliver of white between them. Mike "Scotty" Scott, the first CEO Apple hired to handle areas of competency they lacked at the time (business), and who was straining to conserve precious capital, was unhappy about the expense and called it "The most expensive bloody logo ever created!
But Steve Jobs knows just when to be frugal and just when to splurge on things that end up paying for themselves many times over. The color-striped logo served its purpose very well during the zeitgeist of the time. IMHO, it was of high importance to the fledgling Apple's success and garnered this new startup crucial attention, PR and interest. We'll never know, but that simple, bitten, multi-color-striped logo may just have put Apple on the map, and we may not live like we do now if it hadn't been created. We might be all be using CLIs and WordStar
v.64.9.2. (Again, Steve Jobs knows just when to splurge.)
We know the Apple with Steve Jobs in its employ that gave us the Macintosh, the mass market personal computer that changed the world (and changed the way all
computers now work -- Apple brand or not).
Then, for comparison, we know the Apple after
Jobs was forced out by someone who in the end probably should have stuck to selling sugared water.
We remember the Newton, MacTV, Copland, Pink, Taligent, Kaleida, CHRP, PPCP, Mac clones, and an Apple that barely survived by the skin of its teeth only
because of loyalists like me and others who continued to purchase Macs after Windows 95 came out as well as the Pentium line, and the time came when we could no longer honestly
claim 680x0 Macs were faster; Macs beset with pandemic QA hardware and software issues and sometimes 1 in 3 machines arriving at stores DOA; an OS with underlying software tecnology that had grown completely incoherent; ISVs issuing countless "System Extensions" with zero regard for conflicts with the dozens of other "puzzle pieces" that, upon bootup, paraded across your Mac's screen from right to left, and continued a row above from left to right, from other ISVs; a Mac with an OS that had grown so instable that it crashed an average of once an hour; a Mac with constant modal dialogs popping up saying, "[Application Name] has no more available memory. Please quit other programs or use "Get Info" to allocate more RAM to this application."; and when one app crashed, it took everybody with it, ultimately resulting in a full computer crash, requiring a restart and 10 minutes or longer to boot up.
Our fierce loyalty made us continue to buy these often insufferable Macs and not
PCs -- at a time when we had every reason not to stand by the Mac (and even had to absorb being made fun of, sometimes).
We provided precious income
, just enough
to serve as Apple's sole "life support" affording it the subsistence to experience only a "near-death experience" for the Company, not an actual
death. It was a very
Everyone who helped Apple out with their wallets during the most existential
period in its history, give yourselves a well-earned pat on the back: you saved Apple when it was in critical condition.
There is no doubt.
(Macs once accounted for less than 2% of personal computer unit sales, and even smaller percentage of worldwide sales.) And that survival allowed for the return of Steve Jobs and for the most valuable company in the U.S. or World (depending on the vacillations of the stock market). It is incontrovertible
: we played a critical role in Apple's survival which led to the Apple of today.
Then, we have for comparison the Apple after Steve Jobs' return.
In my own opinion, Apple and Steve Jobs are inseparable. Steve Jobs IS
Apple, and an Apple without him is not Apple. Apple is not a place, a building, a set of formal incorporating documents, a symbol on the NASDAQ; Apple is an idea -- a spacious, expansive idea that encloses innumerable dazzling and imaginative ideas, rare, in that they begin as impossible "pipe dreams," but traverse the yawning chasm between imagination and reality.
Technologist, futurist, veteran of Xerox's legendary Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, eventual Apple employee, Alan Kay, wrote a paper in 1968 about a futuristic device he called the "Dynabook." Back then, his paper read like science fiction; today, with the iPad, something previously entertained only in one person's "wild" imagination, has materialized into a real product. The iPad is Kay's "Dynabook" to the n
th degree. Only Apple can turn things conjured up and imagined in the mind's eye into things real
in this way.
Apple is about challenging "the impossible" like an adversary to assail.
Tim Cook is masterful
in his work, but Apple is like no other company, where a well-qualified person can simply step into the CEO position and run the company successfully.
One of Steve Jobs' many gifts is spotting talent, spotting genius, and then managing it in just the right way
. Many successful Apple execs, engineers, marketers, etc. are successful only
in relation to Steve Jobs and his visionary leadership, management, oversight -- and yes, even his "impossible" demands.
Jonathan Ive was a holdover who survived Steve Jobs' axe when he retook the helm of Apple. But did we know of a "Jony Ive" before Jobs' return? Jobs evokes the best out of talented people, and this gift made him see something special in Ive, who was demoralized and under-appreciated before at Apple, as "left-brain," "bean counter" executives were too risk averse to approve an Ive ID design that deviated too much from the marketplace norm -- "Maybe the marketplace will reject it! It breaks with convention!" But Steve Jobs is an artist
. Steve Jobs is an entrepreneur
, a rare person where every definition you can find will say that the number one trait of such a person is "risk taking."
Would recently departed Apple (physical) Store chief, Ron Johnson, have produced the astonishing landmarks
absent Steve Jobs' visionary involvement? (BTW, this is another perfect example of when Steve Jobs knows just when to spend lavishly -- like the tourist attraction that is the 5th Ave., NYC Apple Store
; like the multi-million dollar store at The Louvre in Paris
; like the upcoming Apple Store NYC's World famous, historic Grand Central Station
, said to cost -- with long-term lease agreements -- $40 million (another judicious Steve Jobs "splurge" that will prove its worth many times over); the breathtaking
store in Shanghai, China.
(Compare any Apple Store -- even the minis -- to the dank, strip mall Gateway chain of stores, all of which were forced to close as they were utter flops.)
Not one of these gifted and talented people is an island: they need a Steve Jobs.
Brilliant hardware engineer, Jonathan Rubinstein, served Next incredibly well, and when brought aboard Apple by Jobs, he served Apple brilliantly as head of Mac engineering and then head of the iPod division. But once again, he only performed brilliantly in relation to Steve Jobs, who managed him throughout.
But since Rubinstein left Apple to become Palm's triumphant CEO (and dissing Apple on many an occasion), he drove Palm straight into the dirt. Every Wall Street analyst was practically pleading with investors to sell any Palm shares they might hold because the share price was headed for zero.
Then HP buys Palm with the added bonus of -- Rubinstein!, and he drives HP into the dirt, in my personal opinion. Talk about a one man demolition team! He's like Godzilla! Radioactive!
Does anyone remember articles many years ago, when at a shareholder meeting, an ornery old shareholder demanded to know why Apple didn't have a product to compete with the highly successful Palm PDAs (”PDA," an Apple-invented term and product category)?
Palm did succeed on a steep upward trajectory, which reached a pinnacle -- or more appropriately, a nadir.
Jobs' answer to the question was unprecedented in that the famously secretive CEO publicly discussed a product confined to Apple's "Bat Cave" labs. Jobs answered that Apple had a full, working prototype of a PDA, but decided not to market it because, Jobs said, he predicts that PDAs and cell phones were going to merge, and the market for PDAs would completely dry up. (Saying this at a period of raging success for Palm! If I could find any fault with Jobs, it would be tipping his hand to competitors at what he foresaw.)
No one should be surprised at Steve Jobs' prescience in the above example; it has happened so many times that his prescience has now become a matter of course.
If you charted Palm's success, it would be an almost precise apex: a steep upward line that reaches its pinnacle (nadir), followed by an equally steep downward line. Palm's upward trajectory fooled many a company including Sony, a Palm OS licensee, who witnessed their PDAs go from raging successes to fodder for jam-packed fulfillment warehouses.
Yet again -- not surprisingly -- Steve was spot on. <Yawn>
Brilliant people have flourished at Apple when Steve Jobs was their "impresario."
Yes, absent his visionary leadership, geniuses, brilliant people, such as the many, very brilliant, gifted people, working at Apple
all during Steve Jobs' long absence after being forced out, flounder
. (The point being, that with many of the greatest minds and most talented people in the entire industry populating Apple after Jobs was forced out, we all know how Apple performed until Jobs' return.)
Tim Cook has been Steve Jobs' "secret weapon" for many years -- years that saw Apple become the most valuable company in the world. Tim Cook is the most unsung hero in American business.
But he is an operational expert, a nuts-and-bolts guy. He makes sure the trains run on time. He spent 12 years at IBM, a company that abandoned the very PC market it created.
Cook has been nothing short of critical
to Apple's astonishing success since he was recruited by Jobs. The two were like Lennon/McCartney.
Tim Cook must
stay at Apple as CEO. His leaving the company would be a devastating blow second only to Steve Jobs' resignation.
Allegorically, while Steve Jobs has been the "obverse side of a coin always heads up," Cook has been the "reverse side of the coin" and just as much a part of the whole "coin" as Jobs (except the critical role Cook has played at Apple for 13 years has been largely hidden, as "the coin has been tails down" -- but just as the self-effacing Cook prefers).
With his almost preternatural eye for talent, Jobs recruited Cook
, a choice that -- as we have witnessed -- could not have been more precise.
But is Tim Cook a creative, imaginative, visionary leader? No.
Apple will continue to turn in impressive quarterly earnings reports. Apple, Inc. will run like a well-oiled machine. Just without the magic, the enchantment, the driven passion, the vision, the foresight, the legendary mystique that captures the imagination and makes an Apple product more than just a product, but one that impacts popular culture and is highly sought after for reasons many buyers are unable to describe in words -- oh, and a product which sometimes changes the world.