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Steve Jobs: The Man Who Transformed Business

As the person who created many devices that have defined how we communicate, Steve Jobs will doubtless be the subject of many books and movies to come. For our purposes, however, his impact on business and business leadership is more to the point. Was Jobs the type of CEO other CEOs might emulate? The answer isn’t straightforward.

Steve Jobs was a visionary who had definite ideas about product perfection. But he was also mercurial making many grievous, costly and near disastrous mistakes along the way. He had a stubborn certainty that led to personal behavior that would have been an anathema in a place like IBM or Procter & Gamble.

If he was a genius, as some are calling him after his death from pancreatic cancer, then his talents must be understood in the context of the particular type of company he created and the context of the era in which he lived. Jack Welch, the gifted CEO of his day, could have run any number of other companies and been just as successful. Jobs’ gifts are arguably less transferable. What set him apart from many leaders was the infectious enthusiasm, passion and utterly dogmatic view that his vision of the future would be vindicated. Apple’s unique culture built around such a personality amplified Jobs voice and enabled him to project his vision onto a world screen. The company in many respects is an extension of his highly idiosyncratic personality.  Contrary to many media impressions, he was no techie.  Rather his talent was impressing his vision of the perfect product onto engineers who originally wanted no part of it. As Jay Eliot relates in his book, The Steve Jobs Way, “when he tried to press his vision of the future on the engineers designing Apple’s Lisa computer, just to get rid of him the Lisa engineers kept saying things like, ‘If you think those ideas are so good, go build your own computer.’”

Jobs genius is inextricably linked to the company he founded– and almost wrecked—until he was thrown out in 1985.  Like John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Alfred Sloan, Harold Geneen and Jack Welch each of whom were giants of their respective industries, Steve Jobs left an indelible mark on our era.   He left four core ideas that other CEOs should ponder—not imitate—as they consider how best to adapt these principles to their own use:

  • Be passionate not just about products but the intersection of design and business values as expressed in products;
  • Keep innovating until you reach your ideal;
  • Always be open to talent that can help and never underestimate the importance of people, teamwork, and organizational culture in achieving innovation;
  • Forget conventional wisdom when aiming to fulfill what peoplewant before they know they want it.

Chief Executive asked a number of CEOs to assess Steve Jobs’ impact on business and leadership.  Their responses can be found here: CEO Reflections on Steve Jobs

Read: The Top Ten Lessons Steve Jobs Taught Us

Read: Jobs Leaves Behind Machines – and Quotes- to Live By

What do you think are the key lessons other CEOs can learn from Steve Jobs? We’d appreciate your input too, so please comment here.

About J.P. Donlon

J.P. Donlon
J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.