Steve Jobs: The man who suffered no fools will be an impossible act to follow
Published 07/10/2011 | 03:20
He was a devil to work with, and he was right there in the details. No other chief executive of a corporation Apple's size operated like Steve Jobs did.
It was common, as news of his death sank in yesterday, to pay tribute to his visionary leadership. But it might not be this high-level guidance – spot-on though it usually was – which Apple will find itself missing most. It is Mr Jobs, the details man, whose loss aches worst of all within his extraordinary company.
"You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology, not the other way around," he said, shortly after returning to the company in 1996 after his decade in exile, and he set himself up as the gatekeeper of that customer experience.
No product would go out the door until he personally had approved every last feature. On his sick bed, recovering from a liver transplant two years ago, he played with prototypes of the iPad, as he had played with prototypes of the iPhone and iPod before it. When he was well enough to return to work, in the final months before the iPad launched, he would descend not just on Apple's technologists to demand tweaks, but also on the developers at places such as the Wall Street Journal and other media companies which were launching the first apps for the new tablet.
Everything would have to be just so, not just with the hardware but with the software Mr Jobs would allow on it. Market research would provide no guide – Mr Jobs was dismissive of such things, since what could research tell you about a market he was yet to create? There was only the question: is this good enough for Steve?
This extended into retailing. He told journalists who toured the first Apple Store with him in the Washington area in 2001 that, yes, he had approved all the details, down to the colour of the glass and the wooden benches. It extended to business negotiations, such as his war of attrition with the record labels, who eventually bowed to his insistence that no consumer would pay more than 99 cents to download a song. And it extended deep into the guts of the technology, where his refusal to make his products compatible with the hated Flash web design software has effectively destroyed that as a force in the industry.
He would brook no compromise, suffer no fools, and chew out subordinates who were clearly not fools but none the less failed to meet his exacting standards. The terror he instilled cannot be understated. Nor can the brilliance of the outcomes he managed to produce.
Who will be the dictator now? Who is Apple's new philosopher-king? The truth is that no one person on the executive bench below Mr Jobs has the talent or the experience to go into every one of the devilish details of the company. Tim Cook, promoted to chief executive in August, knows the manufacturing process inside out; Jonathan Ive, the British design guru, is the man behind the sleek and slinky look of Apple's products; Eddy Cue will take charge of the internet side of the business and the relationships with record labels, book publishers and broadcasters, whose content Apple cannot do without. Apple is about to undergo something akin to a transition to democracy.
"He was dubbed a megalomaniac, but Steve Jobs often gambled on young, largely inexperienced talent to take Apple forward," said Sir James Dyson, the man who revolutionised vacuum cleaners. "Jony Ive and his team prove that such faith was spot on."
There is no shortage of companies which have survived their visionary founders and gone from strength to strength. The headquarters of Wal-Mart, for example, are adorned with portraits and quotes from its founder Sam Walton; the family entertainment ethos of Walt Disney remains his company's lodestar, 45 years after his death.
And the stock market yesterday provided its own tribute to Steve Jobs. Apple shares did not fall at all.
In a note that was typical of the mood on Wall Street, investment analyst Shaw Wu said. "One frequent question is: what do we think is Steve Jobs legacy? Our simple answer is that Apple is his legacy just like Disney is Walt Disney's and General Electric for Thomas Edison. It is the culture of innovation, thinking different, risk taking, and execution that will live on."
'Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It clears out the old to make way for the new'
This is an edited excerpt from Steve Jobs' commencement address to students graduating from Stanford University in 2005
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7.30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumour on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months.
My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumour. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept: no one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Everything that is new will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.