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.
Didn’t he have a major role in launching and improving personal computers? And how about finding a way to download music legally?
I agree with many things in your article, but I do think Jobs had a big impact.
Absolutely spot on. I’m glad someone isn’t fawning over this guy and blind to the really (IMHO) glaring ethical flaws and downright evil. The guy lied, stole, and stood on the backs of geniuses for his own gain.
Michael Breen says
I have never liked the closed environment and the complete disregard for fellow human beings whatever their ethnicity. So I wonder what he will say to his maker?
Derek Lester says
I don’t know that Jobs ever aspired to be Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, or that Apple’s customer was ever considered to be the masses. His product obviously delivered value to its target customers(a minority of end consumers/raving fans willing to pay premium prices for simple-to-use, better-than-average technology). What is disappointing is the fact that many of the other stakeholders vested in Apple’s business success (i.e. customers of a different sort)–like suppliers and workers — apparently did not have their value equally considered by Jobs. But then if you agree to have a biography written about you so that your children will know more about who you were because you were not around them so much, it perhaps indicates that Steve Jobs failed to deliver value to his most important customer–his family. Not a legacy I want to emulate.
Andy Wagner says
Edison was a brilliant inventor, but played little role in bringing his inventions to the public. He left the company to a shoemaker from Lynn, MA, playing little role in its growth and success. He was a complete bastard in the “plays well with others” category when you look at his fights with Tesla in the AC/DC debate.
Henry Ford, after the $5 work day, continued to insist this his paternalistic approach to management and his gradual evolution of the Model T was the only way to go, until his own son hit him over the head and forced him to end production of the T and develop the Model A.
Given Jobs role in pioneering the PC, digital music, and the human centered interface, I think it’s appropriate to compare him to Edison and Ford. A flawed genius, much the same. And aren’t they all?
Coach Nikki says
Let us not also forget the fact that he did nothing to standardize his leadership style and managerial methods within his company…so that when he left the first time, the wheels fell off. No one knew how to run it! The stockholders he values so much were screaming until he took the reins again to get back on the profit path.
I also doubt very much that employees in his stores are terribly sad…when more that 40 hours of work per week does not make one a full-time employee eligible for benefits without signing an agreement to allow the company to schedule hours and change hours as they please. People who want to attend special events, play on a sports team, keep their word when scheduling with friends and family, attend their children’s sports or performance vents, or volunteer with an organization…need not apply, or obvious “need not” health insurance benefits equal to fellow employees who clearly have no lives outside of work. Here lies a not only modern, but on the cutting, edge example of where a union is inevitable and relevant in today’s USA. Shocking a man so adored was behind this.
I am sorry for the folks who love the products, but I’d say the clock is ticking. What are the odds that his Right-hand-man uploaded everything he needs, believed in it all passionately, and will stick to the plan? Personally, I would prefer that he recognize the abhorrant lack of respect for people and make serious positive change. Just imagine…if Apple were “Made in the USA” with true lean excellence inherent in processes… Don’t call me crazy, call me a big dreamer!
Stuart Berman says
I am not a personal acquaintance of Mr. Jobs so I have very little knowledge of his personal life, which is as you point out, is what matters in our lives.
I can say Jobs has been an inspiring figure for many, see his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, where Jobs encourages people to work that things they are passionate about.
From the more mundane business perspective, one has to be surprised at the complete lack of recognition for how Steve Jobs is the embodiment of lean thinking. Jobs is renown for his putting the customer experience first, for not putting in engineering at the expense of the customer experience, for giving the customer what the customer wanted before the customer knew it. Read Guy Kawaski’s book, The Macintosh Way, to read the accounts of how Jobs would agonize over the smallest details.
Stuart Berman says
It is said that to be a great company you must master only one of the three market disciplines: low price; high customer service; or high design. Apple has been focused on the design niche and by doing so bringing a sense of beauty into an otherwise dull market of computing devices. That sense of beauty and deceptive simplicity has brought a little more humaneness into the cold world of electronics and business processing.
One should also give Steve Jobs credit for building a company that still understands what it is doing, how to engineer and build a product, unlike most American companies.
“An exception is Apple [AAPL], which “has been able to preserve a first-rate design capability in the States so far by remaining deeply involved in the selection of components, in industrial design, in software development, and in the articulation of the concept of its products and how they address users’ needs.””
I am certain Apple (and Jobs) could always have done things better, who couldn’t, but let’s give credit where credit is due. The working situation at Foxconn might be as poor as is implied, but I prefer to hear that from first hand sources that understand the environment and context. (I often hear criticisms of working conditions for global enterprises with facilities in China, however my own experience with our facilities is that we have improved the conditions and in some cases raised the bar for Chinese workers.)
Jacob Larsen says
You may already be aware of this article from Gawker. Goes more in depth of Steve Jobs’ negative side including the Apple “Gestapo.”
Christopher Pfeiffer says
I agree with the summation of the comments and the article. Ruthless business person? Yes! Great contributor to the world at large? No way! We should not miss his impact on Disney as well. Taking a company that was all about the customer (once upon a time) and making sure that it only cared about the shareholder. Share holder value did go up. This was also the main reason, while living in So Cal at the time; we never saw fit to visit the parks! Under his impact, employees felt they were treated with distain and advertised as a necessary evil that had to be endured until they could find cheaper…. Of course not better!
Mark Graban says
The way technology has changed how we connect, learn, research, experience, and even think about the world over the last 10-15 years is amazing. The Information and Communication revolutions have been hugely transformative, and Steve Jobs was a big part of ushering in the technology that led to the acceptance of these changes. It’s not just about cell-phones, it’s about moving things forward.
For better or for worse, studies are showing that computers are changing how peoples’ brains process information, and communicate with others, and to ignore the impact that this will have on the future, or to say it is any less important than the advent of the car or plane is short-sighted in my opinion.
In this same spirit, one might say – we could get around before Henry Ford, he just made some improvements to how we did it. We had fire before the lightbulb, Edison just made fire easier to harness.
I won’t say Steve Jobs was the was the only person taking us down this road, but to discount what he did as simply “putting buds in the ears of America’s young folks, making a better cell phone” is really uninformed sounding to me. As someone of this generation, it gets tiresome to have our our heroes and leaders discounted, as the innovators of the past are put on a pedestal as the only true innovators of our history. So, my two cents.
Bill Waddell says
Andy, I think you understate Ford by miles. To casually dismiss the $5 day is akin to asking about the Wright brothers, “Yeah, but what else did they do?”. Doubling the pay through profit sharing putting every worker into the auto consumer class was earth-shattering. His “paternalistic” approach you belittle included equal pay for women, the handicapped and blacks – also unheard of, along with English language schools and company paid medical benefits … I suspect you have been reading too much of the academic sneering and not enough fact.
Stuart, We are going to have to agree to widely disagree. Suffice to say, in my opinion, to call Steve Jobs “the embodiment of lean thinking” is like calling John Belushi the embodiment of a healthy lifestyle.
Alex – Perhaps the reason your generation is so short of heroes is that there are few of them. The quantum steps in linking the world were not taken by anyone from either your generation or mine – Samuel Morse and Alexander Graham Bell took them. Wirless phones and then satellite based cell phones were big steps (although tiny by comparison to Morse and Bell). The iPhone barely made a blip in the history of communications, as much as folks want to lionize its originator.
And really? Henry Ford made a slight improvement on the horse and Thomas Edison just bottled fire? And those things are minor compared to iToys? Good luck with that one.
Obviously the portion of Jobs’s outfit we consider here is the manufacturing portion, but that’s not where Jobs was outpacing his rivals.
Jobs created, repeatedly, organizations that delivered products that met or exceeded customer expectations, created devoted fans and moved entire industries. You don’t have to use a Mac to have an experience that was inspired by one. You don’t have to use an iPod or iPhone either. The entire industry made fun of the iPad on launch and is now scrambling to launch clones (so far mostly without success).
Lost in the noise of Apple is the fact that Steve had other successes: Pixar has one of the most consistent track-records of any studio ever – one blockbuster after another with no real duds. NEXT didn’t succeed as a company, but the OS created there now powers every Mac and iDevice out there.
Certainly there are better examples of lean manufacturing. Apple, Pixar and NEXT are better understood as product design firms than manufacturing entities. Manufacturing excellence isn’t what brought any of Jobs’s three companies to their heights.
On the other hand – Jobs’s products, from the Apple II to the Mac to Toy Story to the iPod to the iPhone are things that customers value. So often, the competitors were producing products that weren’t as valued. Who cares how lean HP’s tablet manufacturing process was made when they had to write off the entire project? Who cares how good Disney’s animation department was when all they could do was straight-to-dvd follow-ups to once-successful franchises?
Calling the technology you’re posting on right now an iToy misses a bit of the impact of the personal computer revolution. Thousands of folks were involved in that revolution, but Steve Jobs was at the heart of it for decades.
In what world is a computer a “toy,” but a car is serious business? Who among us does their job without a computer? What would computers be like without Apple? We’ll never know, but they’d be very different indeed.
I agree, putting Jobs on any sort of technological pedestal is a really big stretch…all of this quibbling is irrelevant when you consider for a moment that Steve Jobs would be nothing without the lowly transistor. I’d be surprised if half of Apple users knew what a transistor is. Just in case you are curious:
Now that you know what a transistor is, it is easier to understand that there are about five-gadzillion other things that have been made with the same DNA as an iPod, than it is to imagine seeing Steve Jobs and Nikola Tesla having a bourbon in the Hall of Great Inventors. Too soon, Mark?
Yet somehow, Apple gained what I would call unconscious customer loyalty, which has been misinterpreted as idolization of their leader. Regardless, I think this is where we can probably give Jobs some credit; on the other hand, that may be too generous when really we are just talking about being the first to design, source and market a good product? Haven’t there been about 100,000 other companies that have done the same thing? Boeing, 3M, why aren’t we idolizing one of their leaders? I mean, seriously, are there not any devices that can compete with the Apple products out there? Let’s get real, its a computer, its a phone and its trendy with young, cool kids – which explains why any of this is news. Landing gear and sticky notes just aren’t newsworthy.
Brand loyalty is nothing new, the only thing Jobs did was dominate this narrow category of excellence with his Mac, iPhone and iPod. There are plenty of other companies who have been around a lot longer and currently share the same spotlight who will be the first to tell you that it doesn’t last forever.
Bill Waddell says
Very well put Bryan
web design bangalore is a spam comment, a copy and paste of an earlier one.
Thanks Kathleen! Bill
Andy Wagner says
There were two Henry Fords, and I’m not referring to Henry Ford II.
There was a Henry Ford of the Model T, who deserves full credit for all of the things that you mention.
There was also the Henry Ford, mostly later in his life, who opposed introducing the Model A, who hired Harry Bennett to beat up union organizers, including his own employees, who was notoriously anti-Semitic, etc.
I think if Edsel Ford had outlived his father, many of Henry’s faults revealed in the later years would not have shined so brightly. Edsel would have run the company through the depression and war years and we might be better acquainted with the greatness of Henry’s early work.
I was born and raised in Dearborn, son of a 37-year Ford veteran. My neighbors lived in Ford-built homes, worked for Ford’s company, and some of the old-timers next door still called it “Ford’s”, rather than “Ford”.
I don’t doubt Mr. Ford was a great man, but he was also a very flawed man. We will say the same about Mr. Jobs.
Stuart Berman says
“We are going to have to agree to widely disagree. Suffice to say, in my opinion, to call Steve Jobs “the embodiment of lean thinking” is like calling John Belushi the embodiment of a healthy lifestyle.”
I gave you comments that I spent some time thinking about with my reasoning and references, you gave me blithe sarcasm.
While I have virtually no name recognition, I have been involved in lean thinking for a decade. My experience is that many people who claim to understand lean have lost their way. At the heart of lean is providing (ultimate) customer value most everything else is elucidation. The second key is “Lead with Humility, and Respect for Every Individual”.
Bill Waddell says
I am certainly good with the aggreeing to widely disagree idea.
What could possible lead you to think that Jobs embodies your ‘leading with humility and respecting every individual’ principle? My sarcasm – and the essence of the original blog post – was based on the seemingly clear evidence that Jobs was the polar opposite of this idea.
Mark Welch says
I had been generally out of circulation for a few months and just saw this post now, Bill. Nicely written. Having worked for a company that was run by ex – G.E. management I can tell you that your statement “the only measure that really matters is shareholder value – all other stakeholders be damned,” is entirely on target. This culture eats human beings for lunch with a trample-the-weak, hurdle-the-dead perspective. I saw employees squeezed for every ounce, supervisors and managers stressed past their breaking points with a callousness and ruthlessness by top management that is more appropriate for rowers in the galley of slave ships. Compassion and respect for people were incomprehsible concepts… All in the name of making the earnings per share target. If this style was similar to Jobs’, well, this is sad. Very sad.