By KOH EARN SOO & TEAM
While there are many books on Steve Jobs, none is written by someone who worked side by side with Jobs like this book Leading Apple with Steve Jobs.
Jay Elliot was vice president (VP) of human resources and then a senior VP of Apple. Yet Elliot learned much from Jobs on how to run a business by observing him up close.
Both were motivated by the vision of changing the world. Elliot penned down these management and leadership lessons hoping they will help us inspire our people to give their best at work.
A ding in the universe: Everything starts with an inspiring vision
Jobs’ management style broke every rule companies had adhered to since the Industrial Revolution but it has made Apple possibly the most successful organisation in the history of business.
From the very start, Jobs lived by true leadership, not textbook leadership. Jobs knew that creating great products that changed the world does not start with product development; it starts with a vision.
His vision on how computers and people could interact, how technology could be friendly, human and appealing led to a series of great products. Offering a long-term vision gets people excited. However, it must come from true passion.
Jobs saw that his role was not clearing the way and gathering the different parts of the organisation for key projects. Instead, his job was to push and make the team better and come up with greater visions of how it could be.
In one of the many personal conversations Elliot had with Jobs, he came to the conclusion that leadership is not about pedigree but it is about the individual, the person’s beliefs and personal commitment. Vision and passion are more vital than credentials.
Jobs understood that every powerful business vision has to be based on customer experience and not on the lowest cost or most impressive technology. The best example is the computer mouse. He saw that with the mouse and the graphic user interface, users would have quicker and easier access for learning and usage of the computer.
The company’s vision must also be embraced by your vendors and partners.
Once, a potential vendor came to demonstrate a disk drive to Jobs. Their big mistake was that they set up the demo using IBM MS-DOS computers. The moment Jobs came and saw the machines, he turned and left. The silence was deafening.
One common trap for many companies is the acquisition of a new company without ensuring that the culture of the company is a good and matching fit. If you are not careful, such a move can water down your vision and culture.
People need to be reminded constantly of the company’s vision. One of the ways is to give your team a special identity.
One day, Jobs came to Elliot after a dinner that he had had with Jay Chiat of Jay/Chiat Advertising. He told Elliot that they came up with a way to strengthen the culture of the Macintosh (Mac) development team. The concept is “Pirates! Not the Navy.”
The Mac team started being rebellious but was getting too big and bureaucratic, and becoming more like the ‘Navy’ each day. So during an off-site meeting, Jobs explained that Mac was now a ‘Pirate’ organisation and what it meant, thus setting the tone and direction of the Mac team.
No team member doubted that they were pirates and Jobs was the pirate captain. The work can be very demanding but there was a sense of being privileged to be part of a team that can never be duplicated.
As a result, people were excited and could not wait to get to work. Good managers have tried to create that kind of pirate culture where people are doing their best work.
Many have written about Jobs’ negative management styles. Elliot agrees that Jobs was often difficult and controversial but Elliot does not allow offences to get in the way because he realised the privilege of working with a visionary genius.
Jobs’ business philosophy and values
Jobs and Elliot spent much time discussing the core values of Apple. Jobs wanted Apple to be based on values, i.e. values that will not exchange the integrity of the product for profit.
Apple is to be the value leader and not the price leader. Goals are important but how they reach the goals are equally important.
After some long discussions, Elliot came up with a document on Apple’s business principles that included the following:
- To use the laws of human engineering to create user-friendly products that are simple and easy to use; that they become natural extensions of the users
- To create an unmatched worldwide customer service organisation to serve retailers, distributors and technical support centres.
The need for creating guidelines for Apple’s values came from a negative incident in 1981, when then CEO Mike “Scotty” Scott was unhappy seeing a group of 30 Apple employees seemingly hanging around doing nothing.
At that time, Scotty was frustrated with the failure of Apple III and he blamed mismanagement for the failure. He decided to make a point by sacking some employees even though there were no economic reasons for that.
About 30 of them were affected, including some very talented engineers. It was a bad decision and the incident was nicknamed Black Wednesday.
As a result, there was a major reshuffling of top management whereby Scotty left Apple not long after. Consequently, a task force was created to come up with a statement of Apple’s values.
It was important that Apple’s values were embraced by every Apple worker worldwide. That was achieved by inculcating these in every new employee worldwide and having new Apple managers go through a refresher in their leadership training. During their visits, key executives monitor how these values are implemented all over the world.
After Jobs left Apple, CEO John Sculley knew it was vitally important to assure the staff that Jobs’ departure would not affect the future of the company. Sculley understood the power of Apple’s culture, and to be successful he needed to fully support and reinforce that culture.
The return of the head pirate
Even when Jobs was running NeXT, he kept in touch with what was going on at Apple. He complained to Elliot that it was a mistake for Apple to come out with products for every market segment; personal, business, education and so forth.
Later, when Jobs returned, he quickly reorganised the company to focus on products. One of the biggest advantages for Jobs after his return was that the Apple culture that was established in 1981 was still strong and alive despite top management changes.
Jobs’ early action plans were to focus on three key areas:
- Rethink product strategy. He decided it was important to focus on products that were true to Apple’s core business and not try to sell a multitude of products.
- Stop infighting among executives and managers. Disagreements are inevitable when brilliant people try to solve problems together. Jobs wanted these conflicts to be handled well, and not allow them to fester and lead to destructive behaviours.
- Create a positive environment of teamwork across the different disciplines, from product concept to sales.
People like to work in companies with strong and well-articulated values like Apple. Besides embracing those values and culture, employees also need to be a reflection of the company’s customers.
Apple’s set of values includes:
- Empathy for the users – interested in solving customer problems without compromising ethics in the name of profit
- Aggressiveness – set aggressive goals and push hard to build products that will change how people work and live
- Positive social contribution – be a positive social asset in communities where they operate and make the world a better place
- Innovation and vision – to develop great products that are new and needed
- Individual performance – set and expect higher personal commitment and performance than the norm
- Team spirit – each job is too big for an individual; teamwork is critical for Apple’s success
- Quality – quality that will earn the respect and loyalty of customers
- Individual reward – recognise the contribution of each individual and therefore, they should be rewarded accordingly. Rewards must be psychological as well as financial
- Great management – the attitudes of managers towards people are of utmost importance. Management is responsible to create an environment where Apple’s values thrive.