My first real job was for a struggling software company named Novell. I was actually hired in March of 1997, laid off a week later, and then hired back. As 1998 approached I read an article that predicted that Novell was going to be swallowed up in a merger or an acquisition and that Apple's survival would be based on who they chose as their CEO. In short, one of these two companies wasn't going to be around in 1999.
Well, Novell was eventually bought, but it would be more than 10 years later. Apple of course would go on to name Steve Jobs as their CEO and change our relationship with technology forever. Who knew? Nobody saw that coming in 1998.
With the passing of Steve Jobs I've consumed my fair share of professional and personal obituaries, commentaries and tributes. And as I sit here and type this out on my iMac I can't help but admire his many accomplishments. As I've watched Novell struggle through the years and Apple succeed, it's a testament to Steve Jobs' genius. Steve once said, "Design is not just what it looks like. Design is how it works." While Steve was the genius behind the design of remarkable products, he was also the genius behind the design of a remarkable company. According to reports, Apple was three months away from filing for bankruptcy when Jobs retook the helm. Today Apple is the world's biggest company, has more cash than the U.S. government, and if I would have bought Apple stock in 1998 instead of my first Mac I would be $159,721 richer today. Bloomberg reported that Ross Perot's council to the young Steve Jobs was that the only way investors would let him pursue cool things was by delivering consistent profits, and according to Bloomberg's calculations Steve ran with that advice; Apple has beaten Wall Street's expectations by 30 percent, on average, since 2006. Now contrast that with Jobs own words, "You can't talk about profit, you have to talk about emotional experiences." Interesting that Apple never released a gussied up annual report exploiting the achievements of the company, and yet their results were the envy of business. Well before the releases of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad Ram Charan wrote that Steve Jobs was someone with remarkable business acumen. This complement coming from a wise professor and business guru directed at Steve Jobs the college drop out.
As we read and learn more about Steve Jobs there's a lesson to be learned when they highlight his business acumen, they're not saying that Steve understood finance really well. Which is too often how we define business acumen. Steve understood business really well and finance is a big part of business, but so is marketing, so is creativity, so is organization, so is product development, and so is so much more. Steve understood the big picture, or rather all the components that have to come together to make a company successful. And not only did he understand these components, he understood how to orchestrate the components and the players to accomplish incredible amounts of incredibly important work. Case in point… I didn't demand an iPhone in 2006, I thought my Motorola Razr was more than I would ever need, but in 2007 there I was standing in line to get my hands on an iPhone that a few months early I would have never imagined needing, now I can't imagine living without it. It's said that Steve never personally programed anything and that his whiteboard drawings were sometimes incomprehensible, and yet he'll go down as one of the greatest innovators and business minds of our day.
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Steve Jobs, thanks for being crazy.