Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Eileen Fischer on Steve Jobs

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Eileen Fischer on Steve Jobs
March 2010 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Eileen Fischer
David Conklin, is a Professor of Marketing and the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair in Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise

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  • While Randall E Stross (the author of Steve Jobs & The NeXt Big Thing)described Steve Jobs as, ‘arrogantly oblivious’, ‘unmerciful’, and an ‘unapologetic snob’ who is ‘imprisoned…by his selected historical memory’, others describe him as ‘the perfectionist’, who ‘sets expectations for quality, challenging the status quo, and never accepts no for an answer’, ‘too good a human being’ and ‘unparalleled institutional builder’, etc. Who is the real Steve Jobs?
    The Jobs persona has been co-created by the media and the role of those who write about Jobs in contributing to what we ‘know’ about him should never be underestimated. The person behind the persona is likely to be as complex and contradictory as most people are.

  • Commenting on Steve Jobs, Andy Grove said, “There’s no other company in technology that’s started with a strong core business and developed another very strong one. The rest of us are lucky, or good (if we’re) right once”. How could Steve Jobs be right more than once? Was it his predictive abilities or iconoclastic arrogance?
    There is a tendency for people to overestimate the extent to which one person is responsible for the success of a company. Groves’ quote about developing a very strong core business more than once doesn’t actually attribute all of that achievement to Jobs. It’s important not to overlook the role of the many people who work (or have worked) for Apple and what they have contributed. There is also a big role played by factors outside the control of any company in how it fares in the marketplace.

  • Many argue that he is reclusive and secretive and end up describing his leadership as secretive leadership and quote examples for similar kind of leadership from Phil Knight, Ratan Tata, etc. Is there any such thing as a secret leadership? What would be the impact of such leadership on the organization in the short run and in the long run?
    Leadership styles certainly do vary across people. And even over time, the same person can vary in terms of how he leads. I can’t comment on whether Jobs has a secretive leadership style, or what its impact is, if he does.

  • In November 2009, Fortune named Steve Jobs as the CEO of the Decade. In the accompanying cover story (‘The Decade of Steve: How Apple’s imperious, brilliant CEO transformed American business’), Adam Lashinsky, Fortune’s editor-atlarge observed, ‘Remaking any one business is a career-defining achievement; four (movies (Pixar), Music (iPod), Mobile (iPhone) and Computers) is unheard of.’ How could he redefine the competitive landscape of four different industries, singlehandedly? What do you think were the critical success factors in such a pronounced victory?
    While Jobs is a remarkable individual, I think suggesting that he has singlehandedly redefined the competitive landscape of four different industries is excessive. Many players, individual and institutional, contribute to the way industries unfold. The success of Apple’s offerings have been that they meet needs better than other offerings in the same or adjacent market spaces. Design aesthetics and functionality are certainly key contributors to the success of Apple’s diverse offerings. To the extent that Jobs has helped keep his company focused on doing design in ways that delight consumers, and in making products that allow consumers to do things they couldn’t otherwise do as well, there is genius.

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