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Would Steve Jobs have been able to start Apple today?

February 2012

Steve Jobs’ official biography by Walter Isaacson, 2011, is an extremely well-written and entertaining book with no holds
barred, nor any white washing. The one question that we at Maestro Performance are wrestling with is, taking into account Jobs’ management style, would he have been able to successfully start and sustain Apple today?

If one looks at his vision, creativity, attention to detail, understanding of the link between design and people, extraordinary high quality standards and focus, the answer is a definite yes – i.e. he was a visionary leader.

However, if one analyses his management style, some doubts creep in. In any start-up company in the entrepreneurial phase, the person running the company tends to be both the leader and the manager. As the company grows, these positions tend to separate. The CEO becomes the leader, and a COO manages the company. Steve Jobs spent too long trying to manage and control every aspect of the company by himself, to such an extent that it nearly went bankrupt.  Tim Cook, the current CEO, was only appointed as COO in 2005.

The following extract from the book illustrates Jobs' style:

“...was Jobs’ ‘almost wilful lack of tact’. It was more than just an inability to hide his opinions when others said something he thought dumb; it was a conscious readiness, even a perverse eagerness, to put people down, humiliate them, show he was smarter.”

Strong leaders realise their weaknesses and surround themselves with competent people to support them and take over where necessary.

Jobs routinely criticised people in public, was rude to suppliers and thought in extremely black and white terms. 
“A person was either a hero or a bozo, a product was either amazing or sh*t”. As we all know, life is not only about making black and white decisions.

Is this the behaviour of an effective leader in today’s world?
Would today’s generation tolerate such behaviour in a company that was starting out?

Start-ups do require some autocratic leadership at times. In the 1970s and 1980s, people were far more subservient.
 In modern times however, people are much more likely to push back at such behaviour. The EQ of a leader is becoming
more and more important, and people are starting to evaluate the SQ (Spiritual Intelligence) of leaders as well. In the book it
is often stated that he had good EQ in that he could assess people. However, this was generally not applied in a positive way, i.e. he would not empathise and encourage people, but rather degrade them.

Although Steve Jobs was a student of Zen teachings for most of his life, this did not translate into an inner calm that people associate with such training. Such calmness is present in an organisation led by a leader that has good SQ. Apple did not display this calmness, yet it was successful, but will it continue to be as successful?

Steve Jobs got people to perform amazing tasks to produce extraordinary products.
Could he have done that with different behaviour?