We are in the middle of 2018 and two great landmarks have occurred. First was Jeff Bezos, reaching the $150 billion mark in personal wealth/assets in mid-July. Second, was Apple, who hit the $1 trillion market value in the first week of August. Both companies, in the tech sector, have built a network effect around the ecosystems that they operate in. Amazon has Alexa, AWS, Kindle, Diapers etc. Apple has iCloud, iPhone, iPod, etc. My focus today is the trillion-dollar fellas especially on one of its legendary co-founders — Steve Jobs. Let’s have a go at it.
Steve was one of those icons that our generation will find hard to forget. The generation coming after us might wonder who he was but those who experienced his effect on business and product design can attest to his business acumen, spell-binding presentations, unrelenting salesmanship and visionary status. It’s like telling those born after 1990 of Pele or those born in 2011 of Michael Jackson. It’s hard to fathom. They never witnessed what these individuals brought to the fore as at that time of life.
There are things that Steve Jobs gave the world — resuscitating a company flirting with bankruptcy, providing thousands with jobs, challenging the creativeness of competitors — too many to mention. There are many things written about this man, compared in the same breath with Thomas Edison, but I think these are the things that made us all fond of him.
- Steve Jobs Re-invented Industries — Jobs did not invent these industries, but he added something mercurial that has changed the ways those industries operate. With Apple I and Apple II, he shook the foundations of the PC industries and made IBM re-think its ways of doing business. TIME Magazine had this to say of him; “Steve Jobs permanently redefined the method, look and feel of personal computing. He was among the first to recognize the vast commercial potential of the graphical user interface, the mouse-driven point-and-click system that pilots virtually every desktop computer today.” He did same on the phone by the introduction of the iPhone by making the phone a pluralistic combo of being a media player, camera, video, notebook coupled with internet client with email and web browsing capabilities, can send texts and receive visual voicemail, and has both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity. The user interface is built around the device’s multi-touch screen, including a virtual keyboard rather than a physical one. The field of animation also got the “Jobian” touch with the introduction of 3D animation in the various “Toy Story” episodes. Toy Story and its sequels are now widely considered, by many critics, to be one of the greatest and most revolutionary films in the history of animation. The iTunes and iPods had the same effect on music. Diana Ransom and Jason Fell writing for www.entrepreneur.com said, “At the time, there were other digital music players but none had the staying power of Apple’s iconic iPod, its subsequent versions and offshoots like the iPod Touch. But perhaps even more revolutionary was Apple’s iTunes, the digital media player that launched in 2001. That platform didn’t just become the ubiquitous means by which music was bought, sold and shared, it broke down the old music model that gave record companies ultimate reign over the radio waves. Suddenly, independent musicians and artists didn’t need a record deal to be heard; they can now reach their audiences directly.” All in all, during the course of a career that spanned almost four decades, he introduced several paradigm-shifting devices and reshaped entire industries in the process.
- Realistic Business Combinations — Though Steve was a man known to be secretive and protective of the Apple brand (he threatened to go on a thermonuclear war with Google on infringement of rights), he knew when to seek a lending hand even from the “opposition.” To the disgust of Apple faithfuls in 1997, Jobs struck a deal with Microsoft to help ensure Apple’s survival. Under the arrangement, Microsoft invested $150 million for a non-voting minority stake in Apple, and the companies agreed to “cooperate on several sales and technology fronts.” He came back to Apple in 1997 and integrated the company he started up, NeXT into Apple. Though the machine NeXT made was priced too high to break into the mainstream market, it had a tremendous influence over the next generation of computing. “Much of the technology behind the NeXT machine found its way into the subsequent generation of Apple products. At the same time, Jobs restored the company’s reputation for excellence in design with products like the iMac and reinvigorated the Apple brand by opening a series of slick retail outlets devoted exclusively to the sale and nurturing of Apple devices.” The same thing happened with the PIXAR and Disney business combinations though PIXAR came in with strong bottom lines after making serials hits in the animation business. All the films produced by PIXAR are among the fifty highest grossing animated films of all time.
- Created the Most Valuable Company — Even though that latest for a moment, 15 years ago, that would have been impossible to fathom. Recall that IT companies were in the heat of the dot.com bubble burst and surviving was no mean feat. Apple was lost in the desert, got back its grove, brought back the founding CEO and survived; somehow. In its August 18, 1997 edition, TIME Magazine wrote, “Jobs is firmly at Apple’s helm and take it from us, the company will never be the same.” How more prophetic could they have been? And that is what happened. With the creation of products that consumers loved and strategic business partnerships, Apple beat their rivals in its sector and trumped the biggest of big-oil to second place and became the most valuable company in terms of market capitalization (Apple’s market cap was $346.74 billion vs. Exxon’s $348.32 billion.). Only Jobs and his cohort could do that.
- Did Not Always Create Great Products — Hard to believe but that’s the truth. His products from NeXT Computers were too pricey for the mainstream market and many IT enthusiasts shunned it. So also, the computer that came after Apple II, Lisa. On the list of failures include the Newton Message Pad and the Portable Macintosh, both of which were utter failures. The worst offender on the list? Most likely the Apple Pippin (gaming system) and the Power Mac G4 Cube (Computer system). The difference between Jobs and other CEOs was that he learnt his lessons on these flops and worked assiduously on the other products that followed. Failures it is said is the fertilizer of success, maybe Steve Jobs believed and practised this. Maybe.
- Invented Toys for Men — Enter the iPad. A good number of its purchasers are men. Not teenagers. Men. See them on aeroplanes, parks, shopping malls, trains and buses. Men playing games on the go, reading a book, taking notes during sermons, reading holy books from it, watching movies or doing anything that caught their interest. After all, there is an app for everything except sleeping. There have been pads from other companies in the past, but they didn’t catch the attention of most of us. They merely tried to give us something different from the laptop. Jobs drifted from that — he gave the world a tool that had both a business and entertainment value. The American market responded with hysteria and the rest is what folklores are made up off. But before this was the iPod, the small stuff with threads of white strings that pops out of the ear and makes one sing at decibels higher than normal. This is a natural symptom of enjoying the music. The iPod with its innovative click-wheel interface, impressive storage capacity and lightning-quick download capability quickly became one of Apple’s top-selling products. Since its debut, more than 390 million iPods (as at 2014) have been sold around the world. You now know how the company got to be one of the most valuable. Though the iPhone has cannibalized the iPod, it remains a favourite toy of some.
- Created a Place of Fellowship for The Faithfuls — I vividly can still remember my first experience in an Apple Store in Milton Keynes, UK. I wondered why so many people of different age and strata were gathered in this one store. I got inside to get a peek and was impressed that computers were there for you to use if you so wish. I noticed the interactions between the customers and the Apple folks. It was impressive. Really as I looked around, lively discussions were ongoing. It’s the kind of tempo that you get when two Nigerians are dissecting the English Premiership League or the state of Nigeria. Started in 2001, Steve Jobs created a place for its faithfuls and recent converts to gather and experience Apple products. Four things stand out in an Apple Store: the butcher-block table, the lighting, the glasses and the customer service. Many stores feature a Theatre for presentations and workshops and a Studio for training with Apple products; all stores offer a Genius Bar for technical support and repairs, as well as free workshops available to the public. Under the leadership of Ron Johnson, the former Senior Vice President of Retail Operations, the Apple Stores have been responsible for “[turning] the boring computer sales floor into a sleek playroom filled with gadgets.” The stores are carefully crafted master pieces. Apple has received numerous architectural awards for its store designs. So, when in any city with an Apple store, kindly visit. That’s all I can say.
- Sky-Scrapper-Sized Ego –The only thing that surpassed Jobs’ ego was his ingenuity. Scrapes with Disney CEO Eisner, Bill Gates, John Sculley, Katzenberg etc proved that he had an ego as big as outdoors. His unswerving commitment to his ideas led him to clash frequently with his colleagues and critics, giving him a reputation as a brash and tempestuous manager. Steve wanted what he wanted and most time he got it. The man lived by his rules. His attire of jeans, no belt, mock-turtleneck shirt and a canvas were standard. Jobs said that attire afforded him the luxury not to think of what to wear and allowed him to concentrate on work. One of the chairmen in those early days said that one of his duties was to persuade the young man (Jobs) to shower more often.
- Kept the Main Thing, the Main Thing — Innovation. That was the heart and soul of Apple and Steve Jobs gave laser focus to it. Jobs innovated Apple out of bankruptcy. During the recession of the early 2000s, Jobs said, “victory in our industry is spelt survival. The way we’re going to survive is to innovate our way out of this.” Apple made consumers to take control of their digital life by making products that offered such services. The company linked products to achieve this, e.g. the iTunes store with a user-friendly environment and a vastly greater library was tied into its hugely popular iPod. His good friend John Lasseter, a filmmaker and the chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios had this to say about him — “One time Steve said, “You know, everybody has a cell phone, but I don’t know one person who likes their cell phone. I want to make a phone that people love.” That was the foundation of what became the iPhone. Or he would say, “What if you could have a thousand songs in your pocket?” “What if you could store a thousand photos?” “What if you could easily edit your own home movies?” His wife Laurene and the kids were so important to him, and that affected the ideas he came up with. He thought about what technology could do for families. Again – again (it never sounds right until you hear my son say it), Steve Jobs worked on an already existent product and gave us the iPhone via sheer tenacity and innovation.
- Created Big Spin-Offs — The spiral effect of what Jobs created via Apple had multiple spiral effects. Just imagine the number of applications (apps) that have found their way to the Apps store and iTunes — making the lives of others easier and creating wealth in the process. “Not only do legions of entrepreneurs list Jobs as a source for inspiration, Apple’s ecosystem has helped fuel thousands of other businesses. At present, there are more than 500,000 applications listed on iTunes, and countless other technology firms have sprung up to furnish ancillary products. From iPod battery-life extender Mophie to Apple-accessories supplier Speck to app development firm Sweb Apps, Jobs’ creations for Apple have become critical to so many other businesses. Furthermore, applications developers and programmers have been building off the platform’s specifications for years”. Apple Apps store launched in July 2008, has more than 180 billion downloads as at 2017. There are about 2.2 million apps as at Jan 2017.
- Simplicity and Aesthetically Inclined — A trip to an Apple Store will encapsulate this phenomenon. Everything is done to the specification. Steve was enamoured with making things beautiful and functional with the philosophy that less is way more. Maybe that’s the greatest gift Reed College gave to him in that one semester of Calligraphy. He adopted the powerfully stable Mac OS X based on a UNIX system and noted for its soft edges, translucent colours and aqua them graphic layout. Jobs said it was so beautiful “you just want to lick it.” The sleekness, functionality and beauty of the iMac made it the best-selling personal computer in America. The computer was self-contained and required no set-up. The elimination of the tangle of device cords that typically connected monitors, keyboards, mouses and CPUs was gone, which made the iMac attractive to users who didn’t know much about computers. At this time, 1998, Apple quickly returned to profitability, and by the end of 1998, boasted sales of $5.9 billion. His sister, Mona Simpson, summed it all in her eulogy “Novelty was not Steve’s highest value. Beauty was. For an innovator, Steve was remarkably loyal. If he loved a shirt, he’d order 10 or 100 of them. In the Palo Alto house, there are probably enough black cotton turtlenecks for everyone in this church.”
Steve Jobs re-defined leadership. He did not fit into any mould. He did what he wanted to do. He was not a saint … far from it but he stood his grounds on things he passionately believed. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong but he was somebody that stood for something and whatsoever he stood for, everyone around him knew about it. Call him bellicose, arrogant or whatsoever but you cannot deny that sticking to his ideas have made the planet a better place. His quest to enter other fields sent shivers to fellow competitors. Ask Nokia (on phones) and Sony (media players). The newest products Apple brought to the market in the words of Steve Jobs were “the best ever.” Whether Apple will be termed a cult or a religion, time will tell (a company that is a cult dies with its leader but that classified as religion outlives its leader), Steve used the company to transform the way we communicate, connect and consume products.
Amazingly, Steve didn’t invent anything per se. Bill Gates chided him for not being an engineer. That didn’t bother him much because he invented something that many cannot possibly imagine — desire. Somehow, he made customers believe that Apple was going to bring that next big thing that they need but have never thought about.
On August 24, 2011, Jobs told us what most feared to hear; “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.” That statement carried depth. Most people knew Steve was not the kind of man that relinquishes his duties. The world thought that pancreatic cancer the Steve told the world about in 2004 has quickened his steps to the grave. Thus, our worst fear was heightened. And what came on October 5, 2011, after saying the words “oh wow, oh wow, oh wow” as his sister told the whole world, was inevitable; death. The man that made “insanely great” products left behind a great company whose tribute to its co-founder reads: “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”
Today as we celebrate the trillion-dollar company, the first of its kind, let us not forget its legendary leader whose shadow is like oxygen to the company. More importantly let us not forget the army that has soldiered on, ably led by Tim Cook, who has doubled the market capitalization of Apple after taking over from Steve. It is one thing to build a house; it is another to keep the house. I think the army at Apple has been successful in keeping the house that Steve built.