I once heard Bob Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller say that when the time comes to write our obituaries few will care how profitable we were or how much money we made. The central theme will be how we used the opportunities our careers have given us to have an impact on people. The wisdom of Bob's remarks seem evident in the world's attempts to write Steve Job's eulogy.
Comparisons of Jobs to the likes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford would be laughable if they weren't made with such sincerity – and thus indicative of appalling ignorance. Putting buds in the ears of America's young folks, making a better cell phone – although not as good as an Android according to market share data – or cross breeding phones and laptops to create pads pale in comparison to the likes of light bulbs and automobiles. They changed the entire world, and did so in a manner that had a deep, positive impact on the fundamentals of people's daily lives.
The valid comparison is one between Steve Jobs and Jack Welch. Jobs was, in fact, the embodiment of Welch's driving principle that the only measure that really matters is shareholder value – all other stakeholders be damned – the polar opposite of Bob Chapman's tenet. Fox News' David Asman writes, "From design, to sales, to customer support, Apple's business model was as close to perfection as any company could ever get." I sincerely doubt that many people who actually participated in that model would agree.
90% of Apple's employees could care less about his passing. I am not talking about the 35,000 or so in the US, but the hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers who make Apple products. (Although given Jobs' reputation for dominance and micro-management I suspect there are a few in the US who echo Harold Washington's observation of Mayor Daly's passing, "I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone".) In order to avoid showing employees the basic respect of a decent wage and a safe work environment, Jobs determined that shareholder value was enhanced by arranging to have them work for a Taiwanese outfit that specializes in avoiding respect for humanity on a grand scale.
The fact that the people who make Jobs' products cannot, in their wildest dreams, hope to own one puts him in stark contrast with Edison and Ford. The notion that Apple's philanthropy is its product is ludicrous to the people making them. The folks who make Apple products might just as well make parts for the space station for all the product mean to them. The products are no more attainable to them than a stint in the space station, and if Apple were to go under they will switch over to making something else equally irrelevant to their lives, with equally little affinity for their customer's CEO.
Apple's biggest supplier – Samsung – has been torn between their need to keep their biggest customer in place and their need to protect their intellectual property. In other words, they know they should sue Apple to put a stop to Apple's abuses, but are afraid of the consequences of winning that battle, but losing a war.
While Apple has a hard core of devoted customers, most who buy their products are unhappy with their relentless philosophy of forcing customers into the Apple product line to the exclusion of all others. Their deliberate lack of compatibility with the rest of the electronic world is perceived by most as a necessary evil – a blatant attempt to manipulate the customer and squeeze all they can from him - but one many tolerate in order to take advantage of Apple's admirable product features. Hardly indicative of a focus on customer value.
Imagine Henry Ford opening up a string of gas stations with a patented fuel, then making sure all his cars – and only his cars – would run on that fuel, and charging premium prices for it … or Thomas Edison making light bulbs – but they would only screw into lamps and light fixtures made to his own patent – so if you wanted light you had to buy high priced lamps only from him.
As mentioned, Apple and Jobs are notorious for their lack of philanthropy. As many have correctly pointed out, they pay their taxes and have no obligation to anyone beyond that. In this era of globalization they are legally free to set up shop in the communities with the lowest level of societal contribution required. They are well within their legal rights to avoid compliance with American environmental standards by having their products made in the environmental cesspool of China.
When the Pope wrote, "Business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference," it is quite clear that Steve Jobs would have none of it, as was his right. In his scheme of things, the shareholders reigned supreme and he lived his life in a manner that rejected Bob Chapman's philosophy lock, stock and barrel.
So let it be said, Steve Jobs made a good cell phone and maximized shareholder value. As eulogies go, it is pretty thin, but it's about all there is. Wall Street will miss him.