How Steve Jobs Became The Icon He Is

Originally published at lmt-lss.com on October 27, 2015.

His rise to the top was hardly textbook perfect.

Image Source: stevenfeeney

A ‘visionary’ is how Steve Jobs is most often described in relation to Apple, the company he founded with high school buddy Steve Wozniak in 1976. The same company he was effectively fired from in 1985, and then returned to in 1997 with a renewed sense of purpose.

But his rise to the top was hardly textbook perfect. A university dropout, he worked at Atari and travelled through India before seeing a commercial opportunity in the computer (the original Apple I) that Wozniak had built to impress some friends.

They started the company with an investment of $US1300 of their own money, making it into the Fortune 500 list by 1983. That year Jobs recruited former Pepsi executive John Sculley to take the chief executive position, only to be stripped of all his power by him in 1985. According to author Steven Levy, this was prompted by the Macintosh computer not selling as well as expected, as well as Jobs’ demanding management style.

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Jobs minced no words when addressing people who failed to impress him or didn’t deliver to his high standards. He is known to have labelled people ‘bozos’ when they couldn’t perform.

In an interview with Steve Levy, he said, “We have an environment where excellence is really expected. What’s really great is to be open when [the work] is not great. My best contribution is not settling for anything but really good stuff, in all the details. That’s my job, to make sure everything is great.”

Jobs suffered a huge setback when he was ousted in 1985 from the company he founded. He then bought Pixar, transforming it from a tiny animation house to an industry leader responsible for films such as Toy Story. He also started up computing firm NeXT which was later bought by Apple.

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.”

Running both these companies independently was a great learning experience for Jobs. At Apple, he was constantly kicking against partners or superiors to get what he wanted, often blaming others when things didn’t work out and occasionally wrapping himself in glory that rightly belonged to others. At NeXT and Pixar he was the man in charge, didn’t answer to anybody, and success or failure rested very heavily on his decisions. This also gave him that extra push to succeed at Apple the second time around and became an extremely strong motivator for success in his later years.

Jobs exerted his control over every aspect of the business in the quest for perfection. The New York Times reports that over the course of a year, he threw out two prototypes of the iPhone before accepting the third. Toy Story took four years to make, but retained the support of Jobs despite the company struggling financially. An investigation into the workplace culture of Apple published by Fortune magazine found that Jobs’ control extended as far as the design of the company bus and the food served at the cafeteria.

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In its interviews with former employees, Fortune found that Jobs encouraged a culture of strict accountability at all levels of the organisation by meeting each Monday with executives to set the tone for the week. Run by a strict agenda, these meetings reviewed every single product under development.

Jobs was an eccentric leader and people within Apple both feared and admired him. He never settled for anything less than what he believed was best and pushed his team to deliver. This in turn, made his team work to their full potential, and in many cases, exceeding their own expectation of themselves.

“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”

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