Leander Kahney, editor and publisher of Cult of Mac and author of the New York Times bestseller Inside Steve’s Brain, provides a fascinating interview about Steve Jobs from John Sculley, former CEO of Apple. It’s amazingly frank; among other things, Sculley suggests it was a “big mistake” to hire him to run the company when he knew so little about computers. Apparently the Apple board wasn’t prepared to give it to Jobs because he was only 25 years old.
John Sculley also describes the situation that led to his firing:
There was one contingent that wanted Apple to be more of a business computer company. They wanted to open up the architecture and license it. There was another contingent, which I was a part of, that wanted to take the Apple methodology — the user experience and stuff like that — and move into the next generation of products, like the Newton. But the Newton failed. […] The result was I got fired.
In 1993, with revenue and the stock down, the Board asked him to sell Apple but Sculley couldn’t find any takers. Apparently, potential buyers like IBM and AT&T thought that Intel and Microsoft had brighter futures. To put this in perspective, Apple has increased its market capitalization by nearly 50X since then. By contrast, Microsoft has increased less than 10X and AT&T is essentially flat.
The interview points out that Steve Jobs practiced management by walking around. Engineers were more important than managers, and designers were at the top of the hierarchy. Sculley provides an anecdotal story to reinforce how different Apple was in this regard:
… a friend of mine [went] into the Apple meeting and, as soon as the designers walked in the room, everyone stopped talking because the designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only at Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.
When he went into the Microsoft meeting, everybody was talking and then the meeting starts and no designers ever walk into the room. All the technical people are sitting there trying to add their ideas of what ought to be in the design.
Sculley concludes that this is a recipe for disaster.
The interview has lots of great insights but my favorite line is as follows:
This goes back to Steve’s philosophy that the most important decisions are the things you decide NOT to do, not what you decide to do.
Focus and simplicity. Steve, we will miss you.
Focus and simplicity – how true. I remember in the mid to late 90s being in a global market dev role with HP in Singapore in the palmtops/handhelds division that had shifted from Corvallis, OR. HP, in typical engineer fashion, was wanting the handhelds to be positioned as a ‘PC companion’ – basically everything for everybody. And they had the Newton in their sights! It ended up being nothing for nobody.
Less is more!!
Vision, everyone talks about it, very few have it. And it’s a lot more difficult to have and live a vision than just talk about it.
Discipline to stick to what you won’t do, what you won’t offer. And deal with the politics, the fears, and entrophy that derails that discipline.
Quality and simplicity that people need but didn’t know they want. Everyone talks about it, but like vision, it’s hard to live it and do it.
That is why Steve Jobs was a maverick and an outlier. What would business be like if there were 50 CEOs like Steve Jobs?
It’s not enough to honor someone who thought different. You have to think different yourself, make it part of your life and be willing to find the means to make it so. Yes, it IS far easier to blame CEOs than grab that torch and start running yourself.