Dean Barber

Breaking the Rules with Steve

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2011 at 9:40 am

As a business consultant, I have to think that it is wise to stay abreast of not only corporate news and machinations, but also develop an understanding of corporate theories and philosophies.

If you know what motivates your customers, you will likely be able to serve them better. So I find myself drawn to not only what a client does and how and why they do it, but also the underlying corporate culture behind it all.

Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990) spent 40 years researching management, and concluded that the power-centered authoritarian leadership style so prominent in corporate America was not working, or at least not working well.

Greenleaf retired from AT&T in 1964 to found the Center for Applied Ethics. In 1970, he published an essay entitled “The Servant As Leader,” which was expanded into a book , which is perhaps one of the most influential management texts yet written. The Servant Leadership movement was born.

Greenleaf postulated that the needs of followers are holy and legitimate, and the leaders use of power arises from the consent of the followers. Greenleaf was very focused on action and ends, and he held a Sabbath attitude about organizational life.

Like Christ, who said “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Greenleaf believed that institutions should serve people.

Greenleaf’s philosophy has been largely embraced by Silicon Valley, the nation’s leading hub for high-tech innovation and accounting for  one-third of all of the venture capital investment in the United States.

Google Inc.’s Mountain View campus is famous for its perks, including in-house masseuses, roller-hockey games, and a cafeteria where employees gobble gourmet food for free. Google’s engineers choose which projects they work on and whom they work with. And they are encouraged to allot 20 percent of their work week to pursuing their own software ideas.

A Throwback to the Past

Not so at nearby Apple, where the corporate culture is more a relic of the industrial revolution than a different-thinking business of the future. Fear and intimidation has ruled under the auspices of Steve Jobs, who announced his retirement this past week as the CEO. Business and tech pundits have showered him with superlatives: Innovator. Visionary. Genius.

“Steve Jobs is one of the great innovators in the history of modern capitalism,” New York Times columnist Joe Nocera told CNN’s Piers Morgan Wednesday night.

“Steve Jobs is the most successful CEO in the U.S. of the last 25 years,” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. “He uniquely combined an artist’s touch and an engineer’s vision to build an extraordinary company, one of the greatest American leaders in history.”

Jobs rejected the standard touchy-feely philosophies of Silicon Valley, insisting that his company create must-have products the old-fashioned way: by locking the doors and sweating and bleeding until something emerges perfectly formed.

Jobs is known as a notorious micromanager. No product goes out the door without meeting his exacting standards, which are said to cover such esoteric details as the number of screws on the bottom of a laptop. Apple’s first CEO Michael Scott said Jobs spent weeks contemplating how rounded the edges of the Apple II case should be.

Jobs created Apple twice. The first time was when he founded the company with a high school buddy in a garage in 1976. The second time was after he returned to the company in 1997, after being fired in 1985. He is now credited with saving the company, which vies with Exxon Mobil as the most valuable publicly traded corporation in the United States.

In his second stint as CEO, Jobs slashed unprofitable projects and narrowed the company’s focus.

An Endearing Story

Leander Kahney, author of the book “Inside Steve’s Brain,” tells the story of Ed Niehaus, who was wooed and hired by Jobs to do PR for resurgent Apple. Neihaus told Kahney about an elevator ride that everyone in Silicon Valley has heard about. It was soon after Jobs’ triumphant and he was axing product plans — and people.

Niehaus recalled: “I once rode down an elevator, not that many floors. We got in the elevator and the next floor a young woman got in, and I could see her go, ‘oops, wrong elevator.’ And Steve said, ‘Hi, who are you?’ and introduces himself to her — ‘I’m Steve Jobs’ and turned on the charm and said, ‘What do you do?’ and all this sort of thing. And the door of the elevator opens at the bottom, and he says, ‘We are not going to need you.’ And we walk away.”

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And Now A Word from Our Sponsors: Eat at Joes

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And Now Back  to Our Program, Already in  Progress.

Being chewed up and spat out by Jobs was a common experience for many Apple employees who came into contact with him. Even the most favored employee could find themselves on the receiving end of a tirade. Kahney reports that insiders have a term for it: the “hero-shithead roller coaster.”

Said Edward Eigerman, a former Apple engineer, “More than anywhere else I’ve worked before or since, there’s a lot of concern about being fired.”

But Jobs’ autocracy is balanced by his charisma. Andy Hertzfeld, lead designer of the original Macintosh OS, told Kahney that Jobs imbued him and his coworkers with “messianic zeal.” And because Jobs’ approval is so hard to win, Apple staffers work hard to please him.

A Different OS

There are also stories of Jobs putting his feet on the table in meetings and parking in the handicapped parking space in front of corporate headquarters, often taking up two spaces. The rules simply did not apply to Jobs.

“Steve proves that it’s OK to be an asshole,” says Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s former chief evangelist. “I can’t relate to the way he does things, but it’s not his problem. It’s mine. He just has a different OS.”

But despite his methods, Jobs has demonstrated an ability to inspire God-like devotion among Apple customers. The iconic iPod, the iPhone and the iPad are the creation of a man known for his near-obsessive control of the product development process.

Jobs made some rather revealing statements to Stanford University graduates during a commencement speech in 2005. He credited rejection, failure and bad fate for his ultimate success.

“I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple,” he told Stanford graduates. “It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.”

Jobs has had a liver transplant and a rare form of pancreatic cancer. He has been on leave three times since 2004. He said his mortality has been a key driver for his minimalist philosophy.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” Jobs told the Stanford graduates. “Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

And while Steve Jobs may be operating from a different operating system, he is traditional in the sense that he is grounded in hope, although he is not a Christian but rather a Buddhist.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” he told the Stanford graduates. “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Parting Words from Jack Layton

On another matter, I must call your attention to the death this past week of Jack Layton, the head of Canada’s New Democratic Party. He was voted the politician Canadians would most prefer to have a beer with. Two days before he died of cancer, Layton wrote a beautiful parting letter. He closed with these words:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact me, Dean Barber, at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com  Barber Business Advisors, LLC is a site selection and economic development consulting firm in Red Oak, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

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