07 Oct 2011

Three Harvard Business School Faculty Comment on the Life and Legacy of Steve Jobs


BOSTON—Visionary, revolutionary, perfectionist, titan of industry, Steve Jobs had an extraordinary impact on the lives of millions of people around the world, changing the nature of the computer and the way people communicate and access information and entertainment. Three Harvard School professors examine his life and the lasting legacy he leaves behind for the ages.

William W. George, Professor of Management Practice

With the tragic death of Steve Jobs at the age of 56, the world lost its greatest innovator in the past fifty years. Through his visionary genius, Jobs transformed five separate fields: personal computers with the Macintosh and iMac, animated films with Pixar studios, music players with the iPod, entertainment storage with iTunes, the smartphone with the iPhone, and most recently, created an entirely new field with the iPad. No one in history has successfully transformed so many different fields.

Jobs was not an engineer or scientist, nor did he make use of traditional marketing techniques such as consumer focus groups. Rather, his creative genius was his ability to perceive what consumers would want before they could articulate it. Then he translated those wants into simple, yet elegant devices that were so intuitive to use that no user manual was required. In 1985 he pioneered creative graphics, using a wide array of color that brought computer screens to life and made them easy to use without understanding programming languages. I had my first Apple product with the Apple II in 1982, but my engagement with personal computers really took off with my first purchase of a Macintosh in 1986. Since then, I have enjoyed using my iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and I'm looking forward to becoming an iCloud user.

What's not well understood about Jobs is the extent to which he was influenced by failure – his own. Recognizing the limits of his managerial abilities in the early age, the Apple board insisted he bring in a business partner, which led to the recruiting of John Sculley in 1982. That marriage, which seemed to go well at first, blew up in 1985 when the two differed on strategy. Was it Jobs's rigidity over refusing to open up Apple's unique software to applications developers, or Scully's need to call the strategic signals – or simply an inevitable power struggle between two strong-willed personalities? We may never know the real answer to that question.

Confronted by Sculley with an "either/or" decision, the board unwisely went with Sculley and fired Jobs. As Jobs said later, "How can you get fired from the company you founded?" But fired he was and cut adrift at age thirty to rethink his future. In his prescient graduation address at Stanford University in 2005, the year after he was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Jobs acknowledged that his firing freed him from carrying the burdens of managing a large enterprise and permitted him to pursue his creative desires unencumbered by managerial tasks he didn't enjoy and wasn't especially good at.

For the next twelve years, Jobs flourished while Apple floundered. He founded a new computer company called NeXt that enabled him to start all over in designing his ideal computer. Then he bought a small computer graphics subsidiary of Lucas Productions from George Lucas and turned it into Pixar animation studios. Pixar became the greatest producer of animated films of all time, highlighted by Toy Story 1, 2, and 3. At the height of its success, he sold Pixar to Disney, taking a large ownership position in that company and joining its board of directors.

Meanwhile, Sculley demonstrated that he lacked the insights or leadership abilities to keep Apple's success going through creative designs and exciting new products. His termination led to a succession of outside recruits, including Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio, all of whom fell victim to their inability to lead and inspire Apple's people. In a historic turn of events, the Apple board purchased NeXt in its desperation in 1996 and brought Jobs back in an undefined role.

But this was not a rapid turnaround. Jobs led the design of the iMac, which was widely appreciated by Apple devotees, but failed to stem the steady slide of Apple's market share, which dipped below 3%. Apple's stock continued to slide. By 2003 it was worth no more than when Jobs returned to Apple seven years earlier. My former company, Medtronic, had a market capitalization in 2003 that was ten times Apple's; today, the tables are reversed. Apple is the world's most valuable company, with a share value that is ten times Medtronic's.

Then came the iPod, which to computer gurus seemed like a diversion from the computer business, which perhaps it was. But its linkage to reams of legal music files through iTunes wiped out both the player business and the compact disc market. More important, it paved the way for integrated information/entertainment devices like the iPhone and iPad, putting Apple well ahead of established competitors in those fields.

It is worth noting that Apple is the only integrated computer company with its own unique hardware, software, and retail outlets--stores that have created the highest sales per square foot in the history of retailing, featuring only Apple products and authorized accessories.

To me, the most important lesson of Steve Jobs's life is the way in which he learned from his hardships—from being put up for adoption, from being fired, and later facing death every day for seven years because of his medical problems. He accepted these hardships not just as part of life but as opportunities to go his own way in making a difference in the world.

And make a difference he did! No one in our lifetime has made more unique contributions to the worlds of innovation, business, or consumer stimulation. Let us hope that in celebrating his life, many young people will be inspired to go their own ways and pursue their dreams and their visions. That could be Steve Jobs's greatest legacy of all.

Rosabeth M. Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration

Steve Jobs logged off too soon. He was a serial innovator whose illness cost the world a bright talent who was also a great company leader. I hope that the music from the hymns of praise sung to him in his waning days is playing on his iPod as he ascends into the firmament of the greatest American business leaders. If there were a Nobel prize for business, surely he would have won it. He did what he set out to do and more. He saw the potential for computing power for the masses, useful and accessible to everyone. In a phrase that drove the early Apple, he created bicycles for the mind.

Jobs was all about mass personalization. The ubiquitous i of the iMac, iPhone, and iPad signaled individual as well as interactive in the user-friendly products he spawned.

In democratizing a technical field, Steve Jobs was the Henry Ford of his time. He turned computers into consumer products affordable by billions. Apple wasn't the biggest company — although Jobs lived to see a glorious moment when Apple's market cap shot ahead of Exxon's to be number one. But Apple consistently pushed the industry to change, playing the role of feisty, fresh-faced, free thinker. Apple was always a counterculture challenging establishments and going for the future — like the early emphasis on getting Apples into classrooms to help kids learn. Jobs was a cofounder but emerged as the business as well as technical leader. He didn't put his name on the door, although the Macintosh was named after his favorite apple, and company style reflected his tastes.

That was Apple round one. Jobs also had a comeback story rivaling any in business, a model for leadership development. He lured a former PepsiCo executive, John Sculley, to the young Apple company, as his "adult supervision," only to find himself pushed out, in part due to excesses in the Mac division he headed. For a time it looked like Jobs was another faded icon, dabbling in a set of ventures hoping to recapture former glory or looking to prove Apple wrong. But he took advantage of opportunities, learned, and grew. He headed Pixar, a star in computer animation, and founded NeXT Computer. NeXT turned out to be his ticket back to Apple, when the underlying technology was sold to Apple.

His leadership pause refreshed and broadened him. As CEO of Apple round II, Jobs built a bigger and even more innovative company, and it soared. Under the mature Jobs, Apple now understood how to enlist developers and other partners. Job's new bite of the Apple created products and platforms that made the computer less important than the content. He led the company into devices of the future, grabbing initial leadership in smartphones, and perhaps saved the online music business in passing. Even the Apple-Microsoft rivalry reflected the kind of competition that spurs innovation.

Jobs didn't start a dynasty, and he didn't take on world problems. He focused on Apple. He won't be known for the charitable foundations bearing his name or the good done afterwards but for the value created through new products during his lifetime. Jobs brought design from backroom to forethought, shook industry boundaries, challenged giants, and excited consumers. That is an enormous legacy that will stand the test of history.

This blog originally appeared on www.hbr.org on October 6, 2011.

Nancy F. Koehn, James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration

Steve Jobs died Wednesday at the age of 56. Within minutes of the announcement, Twitter and other digital channels were flooded with outpourings of grief for a very private man who leaves a very big mark on the world.

It is the footprint, not of a manager or philanthropist, but of an entrepreneur. His legacy is that of an individual who used his drive, vision, curiosity and keen intelligence to follow new possibilities relentlessly without being deterred by the obstacles on his path.

From the introduction of the first Apple computer in the late 1970s to his "wilderness years" at NeXT and Pixar in the late 1980s and early 1990s to his leadership in developing the iPod, iPhone and iPad during the last 10 years at Apple, Jobs turned his energy to creating new offerings that change people's lives.

From the get-go, he understood he was living in a moment of far-reaching transformation that we now call the Digital Revolution and that in such a moment, a lot is at stake.

Invested with a sense of his importance on a stage where everything from telephony to publishing to music distribution was up for grabs, he knew there was no time to lose in developing powerful, beautiful, engaging products and services.

This understanding fueled the relentless pace of innovation at Apple during the last 13 years. (It may also have fed his often severe, controlling, and still-inspiring managerial style.) Undoubtedly, the breadth of Jobs's vision steered Apple toward market leadership and a long series of financial home runs.

But throughout Jobs's journey, we never thought it was solely -- or even primarily -- about the money. More than 15 years ago, Jobs realized that (what we then called) the Information Revolution was bigger and bolder than groovy products and the convergence of technologies.

It was about democratizing all kinds of activity by breaking down barriers in how information is distributed. As he explained to Rolling Stone, this development meant "individuals can now do things that only large groups of people with lots of money could do before. ... (W)e have much more opportunity for people to get to the marketplace -- not just the marketplace of commerce but the marketplace of ideas. The marketplace of publications, the marketplace of public policy. You name it."

If we think about the role of smartphones in the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street protests, we see just how right Jobs was. This is impact, measured in a deep, lasting way.

And this is how ultimately Jobs will be remembered. As an entrepreneur — like Henry Ford or perhaps Alexander Graham Bell — whose vision expanded both our sense of individual freedom and connection with one another. In an uncharacteristically candid speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs advised young people to follow their passion and stay foolish and hungry. He did this all his life, and the world will never be the same.

Small wonder we grieve today.

This blog originally appeared on www.cnn.com on October 6, 2011.

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