In January, 2007, while unveiling the iPhone, Steve Jobs encapsulated how he ran Apple Inc. “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love,” Mr. Jobs told the assembled faithful at the annual Macworld gathering in San Francisco. “ ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple, since the very, very beginning. And we always will.”
Mr. Jobs is the great industrialist of the modern era, whose 3 1/2 decades in the computing business has placed him in a pantheon of ambitious innovators. The celebrations of his career, as he retires as Apple CEO this week because of deteriorating health, put him in the ranks of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Walt Disney, individuals driven by a singular conviction in their own vision.
That doesn’t make him the most fun boss to work for, however. “Steve Jobs’s management style is not likely to be touted in most leadership books,” noted Stanford University business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer in January. Mr. Jobs never considered himself a mere manager, though, but a leader.
Worst boss ever
I’m Steve Jobs and you’re not
Tales of Mr. Jobs’s tantrums are legendary. Detailed-orientated and micromanaging do not even begin to describe his style. His conviction in himself is perhaps best illustrated in fiction. The main character in A Regular Guy, the third novel from Mona Simpson, the biological younger sister of Mr. Jobs (who was given up for adoption when he was born), is a millionaire entrepreneur. Ms. Simpson’s main character – highlighted in an Esquire profile last year – is a man with “this inability, not just to pander, but to see any need to pander to the wishes and whims of other people.”
Mr. Pfeffer, in his January piece for Harvard Business Review, related the story of an Apple manager who had been temporarily fired, “being Steved” as it’s known at the company. The executive was cleaning out his office when Mr. Jobs came by and wondered what was happening. He took it all back: “I didn’t really mean it,” Mr. Jobs told the man. “I was just upset. You’re rehired.”
Best boss ever
Shades of yellow
Steve Jobs cares. Even as he is slagged for being a micromanager, he is praised for the passion that underpins his eye for even the tiniest fragment of a much-bigger picture. Vic Gundotra, a senior Google engineer, remembered a call from Mr. Jobs one Sunday. The Google logo was coming up funny on the iPhone and Mr. Jobs wanted it fixed, telling Mr. Gundotra: “The second O in Google doesn’t have the right yellow gradient.” Mr. Gundotra smiled at the memory in a Google+ post on Wednesday night. “It was a lesson I’ll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.”
Shades of green
In the calculus of capitalism, the best boss award goes to the person with the most money. And Apple is a money-printing machine. It booked a $7.3-billion (U.S.) profit in the April, May and June quarter. Profits have grown rapidly under Mr. Jobs’s watch, results that make him “the best CEO of this generation,” according to The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal.
Who are you?
Mr. Jobs didn’t always hit home runs. After being ousted from Apple in the mid-1980s, he struggled with various efforts – NeXT Computer was aimed at big business. The key lesson Mr. Jobs learned was that he was a consumer products guy, according to Jay Elliot, an Apple executive in the 1980s whose book The Steve Jobs Way came out this year. “It’s all about the product, down to how it looks when you open the box,” said Mr. Elliot in an interview on Thursday.
Gut instincts and stoking argument
Mr. Jobs has hired more than 5,000 people in his time, assembling an all-star team at Apple HQ, including the likes of Jonathan Ive, the company’s brilliant lead industrial designer. Mr. Jobs, in a February, 2008, interview with Fortune magazine while on holiday in Hawaii, said the key to hires is that they love the company, devote themselves to it – but he also noted that hiring is art, not science. “In the end, it’s ultimately based on your gut,” Mr. Jobs said. And the man does believe in collaboration. “When a good idea comes,” he told Fortune, “part of my job is to move it around, just see what different people think, get people talking about it, argue with people about it ... and, you know, just explore things.”