Saturday, August 27, 2011

Steve Jobs: The Most Brilliant Tyrant in Business History?

CNN Money has a now outdated article from March,2008 which tries to evoke the human white-heat fireball which is Steve Jobs:

At Apple during his 20s, Jobs served as board chairman and head of the Macintosh division. But he was never given the CEO job. Adult supervision - in the form of professional managers - was recruited to run the fast-growing business, notably Pepsi president John Sculley. "Back then he was uncontrollable," venture capitalist Arthur Rock, an early Apple board member, told Institutional Investor last year. "He got ideas in his head, and the hell with what anybody else wanted to do. Being a founder of the company, he went off and did them regardless of whether it ended up being good for the company."

To be sure, many of the gifts that would drive Apple's resurrection over the past decade were already evident in the 1980s: the marketing showmanship, the inspirational summons to "put a dent in the universe," the siren call to talent. Engineer Bob Belleville recalls Jobs recruiting him from Xerox in 1982 with the words: "I hear you're great, but everything you've done so far is crap. Come work for me." Jobs famously seduced Sculley to Apple by challenging him: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?"

But after two years of working closely with Jobs, Sculley came to liken him to Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. In "Odyssey," his memoir of this period, he called Jobs "a zealot, his vision so pure that he couldn't accommodate that vision to the imperfections of the world." In 1985, Sculley orchestrated Jobs' firing after a power struggle. And in his memoir, Sculley dismissed Jobs' vision for the company. "Apple was supposed to become a wonderful consumer products company," Sculley wrote. "This was a lunatic plan. High tech could not be designed and sold as a consumer product." Of course, Sculley was dead wrong.

Indeed, as the iPhone and iPad would go on to cement Jobs as the ultimate consumer product genius of all time, excepting only Henry Ford & Thomas Edison, perhaps, it seems that Jobs' ability to change his mind and take credit shamelessly was more in the line of Joe Stalin or Adolf, or a competent Saddam Hussein, in homage of his partly Middle East heritage {a Syrian daddy who disappeared from his life and adopted him out].

Here's the last revealing paragraph in a long article that spends 90% of its verbiage excoriating Jobs while lauding him as a genius:
Already in 2008, Jobs has unveiled his usual array of sleek new products, highlighted by the MacBook Air, billed as "the world's thinnest notebook." The company's most recent quarterly results were its best ever: Apple reported $1.58 billion in profit, $18 billion in the bank, and zero debt. Despite signs of a recession, the company projected second-quarter earnings growth of 29%.

But this time, all that just wasn't amazing enough. Since the beginning of 2008, Apple shares have tumbled by 40% from their all-time high in late December (in a down market, to be sure). Disappointing the masses is a risk you take when your stock is priced for bedazzlement.

And even for Apple, conjuring the magic won't get any easier. It's hard for a big company to keep growing rapidly, especially if the economy heads into a downturn. Cellphone makers - and even Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) - are cranking out new products to compete with the iPhone. The iPod market shows signs of being saturated. Amazon's (AMZN, Fortune 500) new digital-music store is gunning for iTunes, aided by record companies eager to escape Jobs' insistence on dictating the price for their content. It's the same reason NBC Universal took its shows off iTunes. Then there's the possibility of additional fallout from the SEC and Justice Department investigations at Apple and Pixar.

Apple voted most innovative
As usual, Apple's fortunes will rest not just on external factors, but on the shoulders of its CEO, who has pushed his company both to astounding heights and to the edge of significant risk. It is Steve Jobs himself who is the wonder - as well as the worry.

Read the whole article for a sort of Nantucket Sleigh Rod that comes from spearing a whale. And of course, the last paragraph doesn't even have a clue that Apple was about to invent the fastest selling "consumer product" in the history of IT. While Gates bathes in the bathos of his early retirement, Jobs invented iPad, which made Apple bigger than Exxon/Mobil for a short time last month and will put Microsoft into the dustbin of history that corporate second-raters deserve---Gates bet on a computer future based on big business while Jobs bet on a Brave New World that has changed the lives of all of us on a daily basis....!

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