It is too easy to say tonight that Steve Jobs has impacted your life. Even if you never owned an Apple computer, iPod, iPhone, iPad or seen a Pixar movie, you have been influenced by Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs impacted more then just the technology world, he changed culture and society. Steve Jobs was a cult of personality; an icon; a cultural figure. You will be hard pressed to think of another CEO in the last 50 years who has disrupted as many industries (e.g., personal computer, software, movie, music, publishing, telecommunications) as Steve Jobs. How many CEOs can you think of that can get parodied on Saturday Night Live? Even President Obama took time of his busy schedule to write a few words of remembrance calling Steve “among the greatest of American innovators.” Tonight, Steve Jobs is dead at age 56.
I say Steve Jobs was a ‘different’ kind of leader because he lacked many of the soft skills many leaders develop. To be polite, lets just say Jobs was blunt, direct, often lacked tact, and could easily rub you the wrong way. But Jobs did have one skill in spades – he had vision. Jobs knew what he wanted and was relentless until he got it. It was this singularity of focus on that one thing in his radar screen which he wanted to perfect. A bulldog who refused take “no” for an answer. A micro manger who would leave no detail untouched. At traditional leader he was not. A visionary who would see his visions fulfilled, he was.
In my honest opinion, the most amazing aspect of Steve Jobs and his skills as an innovator was that he did no marketing research whatsoever. Zero. Zilch. Nada. From his first revolution of the Apple II PC, to the Macintosh, to the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, it was Steve’s vision and his singular focus on the end user – the consumer experience – the humans that would actually be using this “cool” technology that made him tick. The one constant Jobs carried with him throughout his distinguished career was his unwavering focus on the end user. He didn’t need marketing research and one could say he didn’t even care as much about technology for technology’s sake. He just knew that if he focused on the user experience, (insert product name) would be a success.
For quite some time, Steve Jobs knew he was going to die. Jobs most famous and most personal speech occurred as the 2005 commencement speaker of Stanford University urging the students to focus on their dreams because their time is now. Perhaps, Steve Jobs most important legacy is the imprint he left on the firm he founded in a garage so many years ago. It suffices to say that the bench is deep at Apple Inc especially with the triumvirate of CEO Tim Cook (e.g., the defacto CEO in charge of operations for the last six years), Philip Schiller (Sr. VP, Marketing) and Jonathan Ive (Sr. VP, Industrial Design). These three along with the other team players developed at Apple match up or are better than every leadership team in tech. Steve Jobs and company he left behind have at least 24 to 48 month of innovations on the drawing board (including that elusive iPhone 5 that did not appear this week). The near term is solid, just as Steve would have micro managed. One could say his biggest contribution wasn’t some piece of technology such as a smartphone, a tablet or an operating system, but Apple itself, a 12,000-strong organization that was once on the brink of irrelevance and financial ruin. Since his return to the company in 1997, Steve Jobs has rebuilt Apple from a technology company that created technology products to a company that focuses on a user experience that just happens to create technology products. Perhaps the most fitting tribute to Steve Jobs given by none other the President Obama, “And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.”