Why it’s ok to hate Steve Jobs
I used to hate Bill Gates, along with everyone else. But I’ve also grown less fond of Apple uber chief Steve Jobs over the years as well.
It was always cool to hate Bill. His control issues, his company’s lack of innovation, his copying and imitating and what some would call outright theft of others’ ideas, the spectacular and endlessly irritating flops. Microsoft was a postal box for royalty cheques people said. And he looked hateable too, like Nixon.
Steve, on the other hand was always viewed as the antithesis of business blue Bill. A cultural creative and orphan, with a messed up personal life, he was a blueprint for the tortured genius. For years, guessing Steve’s genetic origins was a Silicon Valley parlour game. And he was a rebel to boot. Remember Apple’s famed Orwellian television ad in 1984 showing the robot slaves of Microsoft paying homage to a nondescript black box, until one breaks ranks and throws a spear through it, freeing them all? Investors mothered him.
But then something changed. After Job’s caprices at Apple got him bounced from the board and the fortunes of the company turned sideways, it was Bill Gates of all people who rode to the rescue, providing a much needed cash infusion in a late night phone call to Jobs, who was later quoted as having said, ¨Thanks Bill. It’s a better world.¨ I’m not sure if that conversation really happened or not, I merely remember reading about it in the newspaper. But I did notice that Apple seemed to grow more litigious after Jobs was anointed CEO in the late 1990s. Suddenly there were stories about lawyers in black suits with briefcases showing up at high schools to threaten kids with lawsuits.
Nevertheless, over the following decade Apple reached that golden intersection of narcissism and creativity that makes for business success on a huge scale. And if some like myself became increasingly irritated by Apple’s attempts to control the mobile world, even to the extent of forcing users of the ‘USB and card slot free’ iPad to purchase adapters, well there that Bill/Steve configuration at work I suppose.
However, I think Apple shareholders are in a complete state of denial with respect to the future of a Job less company. Apple stock is little unchanged since the news of Jobs departure, an event which I believe has been grossly underestimated.
I suppose with millions of iPhones and iPads rolling down the chutes investors think there is no need for for a creative genius at the helm in the foreseeable future.
But in fact, I think there is greater need for Jobs at the helm going forward than ever before, which is why I haven´t been tempted to run out and buy Apple stock even on recent dips.
Because the million dollar question now is whether Apple’s heavily proscribed product universe and pricing will survive a serious economic depression. Creativity is nice, but it’s usually optional — and in the case of Apple products it’s not cheap either. The strategic blend of mobile business tool and toy, the sexy branding and sleek unisex designs are pretty compelling in a status conscious market. But what’s staring us in the face is a potential race to the bottom to capture a bigger share of dwindling sales. That’s not exactly Apple’s tasse de thé …
However, even though I hate Steve Jobs, and as stink eyed as I am over the company’s near term future, I still want them to win. I’m still rooting for them, because everyone loves a winner. Apple now has a place in the pantheon of American business innovation, along with Ford and GE. It’s simply too famous to fail. We won’t let it.
But it’s sure going to get bumpy ..
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