Lessons from Apple under Steve Jobs

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By Mark P. Barry, Lecturer in Management, UTS

Mark Barry Photo 2When Steve Jobs took over in 1997, Apple — the company he co-founded in 1976 but from which he was fired nine years later — was just 90 days from bankruptcy. When he stepped down as CEO in August 2011, weeks before his death, Apple had just become the most valuable company (by market valuation) in the world. It remains so today. Apple, Inc., makes perhaps the most popular consumer products in the world, with instantly recognizable names such as the Mac, the iPhone and the iPad. Most observers agree that Apple changed the world. It did so through a passion to make the best products possible (but with just a few, focused product lines), a unique management style, and the goal of marrying technology and the liberal arts. From Apple’s example of success, there are lessons for Unificationists.

Steve Jobs was a very difficult person to work under. He was prone to calling people either geniuses or bozos; he could be wickedly cruel to those who received his ire. He often invoked his “reality distortion field” to convince others to believe the opposite of what was otherwise obvious. But he had a passion for excellence and would settle for nothing less. That’s why in the end people wanted to work under him. They knew he would make breakthroughs that no one else of his generation could.

Since his passing, many call him a combination of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. And Apple’s greatest achievements occurred with Job’s “second coming,” the years after he returned to the company’s helm, in which Apple was the most productive and innovative. Jobs was not only a great visionary, but he had tremendous willpower to accomplish what he wanted no matter what the odds.

Jobs had been ill with pancreatic cancer since 2003. Though the tumor was removed, cancer recurred by 2008, necessitating a liver transplant the next year. He knew he could not lead Apple forever, that his time was very limited. In fact in his last years, Jobs led Apple under considerable pain and physical weakness. He sought to institutionalize Apple’s culture so that it would carry on with great energy and continuing success after his passing. He established an internal Apple University to teach employees the fundamentals of Apple’s corporate DNA and creative culture. The last thing Jobs wanted after his passing was for managers to ask, “What would Steve do?” He felt that tendency was what hurt the Walt Disney Company after the death of its founder.

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