Jack Welch, former CEO of the General Electric Group, once said “A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization not as it is, but as it should be.” In October, one of the world’s most renowned and respected business figures, Steve Jobs of Apple fame, died. Steve Jobs continually looked into the future, changing the face not only of his own organisation but also of computer technology on a global basis. But his ‘ball position’ and his ‘flight path’ to his end destination were initially flawed.
In the late 1970’s Steve Jobs was a young middle 20’s visionary who led the team at Apple as they developed and in 1984 launched the Apple Macintosh. But his initial ‘ball position’ that was apparently so correctly positioned proved to be a misconception when a power struggle at Apple saw the brains behind the Apple brand kicked out of his own company. This happened in 1985 when Jobs was just 30 years old – he was rich but he was unemployed and even vilified by some. He started two new companies, Next Computer and Pixar Animation, but whilst both companies offered cutting edge technology, they were cash tight and significantly eroded the USD 100 million fortune that Jobs had earned at Apple.
Jobs set his mind on reclaiming his mantle at Apple. Part of his repositioning strategy became reality in 1995 with his company Pixar Animation’s involvement in the animated movie Toy Story which became the highest grossing animated feature of all time. Jobs used the success of Toy Story to raise capital expansion funds via an IPO (Initial Public Offering). His IPO was so successful that Jobs became an instant billionaire. His personal recovery process then took an interesting turn. Apple had been struggling and they decided to buy Next Computer in an effort to reinvent Apple as a technology innovator. Part of the deal saw Steve Jobs appointed as an advisor to Apple. It did not take long for Jobs to convince the Apple Board that he should be running the company and so the wheel turned full circle as the incumbent CEO was removed and Jobs was appointed CEO, just over a decade after being so unceremoniously dumped. He had successfully addressed his initial flawed ‘ball position’ with a resultant improved ‘ball flight’. His game had improved to such an extent that Apple’s scoring capability was set to exceed its wildest dreams and highest expectations. Apple became a technology superpower, the Tiger Woods of its industry.
Once back in the CEO hot-seat, Jobs’ initial contribution was to reinvent the Apple Macintosh, linked to an advertising campaign that defined the Apple brand as being cool, cutting edge, revolutionary and creative. It caught the imagination of the world, but whilst the ‘Think Different’ advertising campaign was exciting the reality of Mac was built on sound technology, great fundamentals and superior forward thinking. Jobs understood the ‘flight path’ that was necessary to win, not just for one great round but for the whole tournament – ultimately the strategy and the game plan necessary to achieve the number 1 ranking. The new Macintosh was called iMac and it was launched in 1998. It was pretty much the same as the original integrated all-in-one Apple Mac computer but it had a distinctive new design – it came in a stylish see-through blue and white plastic case that allowed people to ‘look into’ the computer, making the electronics and circuit boards visible. Mac was back!
The next part of Apple’s ‘ball flight’ that Jobs focused on was music. In effect, he created a software jukebox called iTunes that in turn led to the creation of the iPod. Jobs first considered the possibility of linking and making iTunes compatible with other MP3 players, but decided that they were all sub-optimal and it was as a result of this observation that iPod was born in 2001. This innovation allowed users to copy music CD’s to their Macs and to manage all of their music digitally. Each facet of Apple was embracing the greater vision of being a lifestyle brand, touching people personally.
There was initially one problem. The iPod was only compatible with iMacs, so Jobs ported iTunes to Windows. Now everybody could use iPod and the results were instantaneous. Despite continued industry concerns re the sustainability of Apple and iPod, especially with the emergence of new and different competitors, Jobs remained focussed on his own ball flight and by 2009 the iPod accounted for over 70% of the Digital Music Player business.
At about the same time as iTunes and the iPod were ready to be launched in 2001, Jobs took a bold step and entered the retail market with Apple Stores. Critics were massively sceptical of the Apple Store development – after all, luminaries such as Microsoft, Gateway and Dell had all failed in previous retail ventures. But Apple’s ‘ball flight’ remained on track and it was set to hit the identified landing zone. The Apple Stores were High-Tech but Low-Pressure environments with ample light, wide open spaces and the freedom to roam as one pleased. Advice on both hardware and software problems, linked to lessons on how to make best use of their new iMac computers, was readily available. The result of the Apple Stores launch was not only a profitable new division of the Apple company but a growth in market share for personal computers from an estimated 2% in 2001 to an estimated 10% in 2010. Despite the turbulent economy of the past few years, Apple has never had to close a single retail outlet.
In January 2007, Steve Jobs took centre stage at the annual Macworld Expo and in his keynote address stirred a new wave of excitement. He told the audience “We’re going to make history today…. Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. You’re very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career…. In 1984, we (Apple) introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001 we introduced the first iPod and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Today we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device… These are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it ‘iPhone.’ Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”
The iPhone was up against Smartphones from companies like Blackberry, Palm Treo and the various Windows Mobile devices. Apple’s intention with the iPhone was twofold.
- It wanted to make Smartphones easier to use;
- It wanted to make Smartphones a legitimate Web browsing device.
With its touch-based interface, the iPhone was an instant hit. The iPhone achieved all goals and was immediately recognised as the easiest Smartphone to use. In subsequent years competitors have tried to emulate the iPhone, but it remains at the cutting edge of its industry niche and is still one of the most simple User Interface devices to navigate, especially for new users. Jobs has stuck to the correct ‘ball position’ and his preferred ‘flight path’. By 2009 iPhones owned about 30% of the US market and about 17% of the global market. But of even greater significance was the launch of its application ecosystem. In mid-2008 Apple opened its App Store. Just 9 months later the App Store served its billionth download and a mere 5 months after that, in September 2009, it served its two billionth download. It took only another 3 months for the App Store to serve its three billionth download. Truly amazing.
Sadly Steve Jobs was at this time experiencing serious health problems and he had to take time off to have a liver transplant. Despite his near death experience, Jobs returned to work to drive the launch of a tablet device to be known as iPad. Wikipedia describes iPad “…primarily as a platform for audio-visual media including books, periodicals, movies, music, games and web content. Its size and weight fall between those of contemporary Smartphones and laptop computers.” Apple released the first iPad in April 2010 and sold 3 million of the devices in 80 days. During 2010, Apple sold 14.8 million iPads worldwide, representing 75% of tablet PC sales at the end of 2010. By the release of the iPad 2 version in March 2011, more than 15 million iPads had been sold, which represented sales equal to more than all other tablet PCs combined since the iPad’s release. In 2011, the iPad is expected to take 83% of the tablet computing market share in the USA.
On 5th October 2011 Steve Jobs died. At Stanford University in 2007 Steve Jobs made one of his most famous speeches – it became known as the “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” address. We salute a man who always stayed hungry and one who pursued his dream to the end. Despite some turbulent weather along the way, Steve Jobs was able to play the game better than most because he had a great ‘ball position’ and a superior ‘flight path’.
What can we learn from Steve Jobs? Stay Hungry and Stay Foolish and never give up on your dream, whether it is to improve your golf game or to upgrade your life. Work hard at the basics and the rest will surely follow.
Chairman of KeNako