This is an obscure video of Steve Jobs presenting the plan for the new Apple campus to Cupertino city council in June of 2011.
It provides some good advice to any business leader who is appearing before a regulator or government body.
1. Be humble. Jobs is CEO of one of the largest companies in the world. Here he is appearing personally before a small city council.
Predictably, he didn’t roll up in a Ferrari or wear a lot of bling. He doesn’t bring an army of lawyers. He waits in the audience to present like everyone else.
More importantly, his language is appropriately humble.
His tone is matter of fact and respectful. It is the job of the council to make a decision, and he takes their jobs seriously. He is the biggest employer in the town, but he doesn’t flaunt his power or rub anyone’s nose in it.
2. Establish an emotional tie. Jobs uses the story of his early relationship with Hewlett and Packard to explain why this piece of land is special to him.
The story isn’t just some random reflection. It is his first point and helps set the tone for the presentation: I grew up here, I want to stay here, Cupertino is my home.
As a result, there is some additional pathos for the company from the council.
Don’t underestimate how important it is to make your audience sympathize with you. It allows them to later see your request through your eyes.
3. Establish a common interest. Jobs clearly states the employment numbers and economic impact. He employs 9,500 people in town and wants to increase that to 13,000. That is a fact.
He also says that if he can’t expand, he would have to move to Mountain View and take his tax base with him.
But the key is the lack of direct threat. He doesn’t say “If you don’t approve this, I’ll move to Mountain View.” He says “We don’t have the room to stay where we are, and I don’t want to move to Mountain View, so let’s do this.”
He presents the choice to Cupertino in terms of positive benefits, not a gun to their heads.
Governments can react badly to threats, even somewhat irrationally. Protecting the prerogatives of the state is crucial for the long-term interests of any government. The wrath of one business can seem smaller than the loss of independence for a government or regulator, particularly if that business is imperious or disdainful.
Win-win solutions are always better than demands.
4. Anticipate concerns. Landscaping and parking are addressed immediately, the prosaic concerns of neighbours. “What will I be looking at all day and will I be able to get a parking spot?”
Energy will be generated internally in as clean a method as possible. They will increase the number of trees and moving parking spots underground.
City council zoning applications often get hung up on externalities like traffic snarls or construction noise, not grand issues of architecture or safety. Jobs effectively addresses most of those in the presentation.
The point is that he doesn’t wait for problems to come at him in the Q&A, but ticks them off in the presentation.
5. Brevity. Jobs only takes about eight minutes to make his point, and then takes questions.
Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.
6. Doesn’t give things away to buy peace. Jobs gets asked several pointed questions about moving an Apple store to town or providing free WiFi. He doesn’t dismiss the requests out of hand, but instead answers them with a clear no and explains his thinking.
It’s a temptation when you are appearing before a government or regulator to try to buy peace, but often this isn’t necessary or appropriate.
Jobs gives a good example of how to say no: directly and with reasons.
This is a pretty easy audience and the city council is clearly star-struck. But something like this could go very badly if the company had handled it badly.
Jobs handled it with humility and preparation that showed respect for the institution and its democratically elected representatives.
The results? The next day, Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong held a press conference to say “there is no chance that we are saying no.”