15-19 Story 1: Becoming Steve Jobs

 

Synopsis: Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, was hailed as a genius during his lifetime for the success he and his partner made of the fledgling computer company. However, Jobs was also accused of being a divisive manager who burnt out his employees, and was eventually sidelined at his own company. We talk to one of his biographers about how Jobs changed his ways after he left Apple, and how his experiences with NeXt Computer, Pixar, and becoming a husband and father helped him develop into a savvier, more understanding innovator and leader.

Host: Gary Price. Guest: Rick Tetzeli, co-author with Brent Schlender, of the book, “Becoming Steve Jobs: The evolution of a reckless upstart into a visionary leader.”

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Becoming Steve Jobs

Gary Price: There is probably no more interesting, complicated and exciting business leader in the last 50 years than the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. He was hailed as a genius, an uber-creative individual with an eccentric personality that captured the imaginations of business journalists everywhere. Two of those journalists are Brent Schlender, who wrote about Jobs for the Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine for nearly 25 years, and Rick Tetzeli, executive editor of Fast Company, and the former deputy editor of Fortune, and the editor of Entertainment Weekly. Schlender and Tetzeli are also co-authors of the new book, Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. We spoke to Tetzeli about Jobs and why they chose to look at his life and his work as an evolution rather than an innate talent…

Rick Tetzeli: He’s often drawn as half genius, half jerk from birth. That’s not accurate. He changed a lot over time. The other reason that we called it “Becoming Steve Jobs” is because Buddhism was an Important part of his life early on and there’s this idea there that you’re constantly in a state of “becoming.” You know, you’re never sort of one fixed person, you’re always evolving. My co-writer, Brent Schlender, knew Steve for 25 years. He covered him for the Wall Street Journal and for Fortune Magazine, and he felt that was true of Steve. He believed that Steve had changed more than any other businessman that he covered.

Price: Tetzeli says that they didn’t spend much time on Job’s childhood, but instead chose to concentrate on his business life with Apple and beyond. He says that when Apple began, Jobs’ management style got results, but at a steep cost to his workers and the company….

Tetzeli: In his first incarnation as Apple’s leader — he was actually CEO for two months — he was a very divisive figure there. His brilliance was in leading small groups of people and motivating them through a really aggressive, harsh management style that burned them out. People, after the Mac was done, those people didn’t do a lot of great work at Apple after that.

Price: In 1985, Jobs was sidelined at Apple and left the company. Tetzeli says that his removal was not a happy time for him, as he traveled the world…

Tetzeli: At first he was in agony. We spoke to a couple of people who worried that he was suicidal. One woman, Susan Barnes who was the Chief Financial Officer at NeXt and was the financial leader of the Mac team, said that he called her from overseas and — he took some time that summer and traveled around Europe — he called her and she hung up and was really worried about him. It was a real blow to him. This was the company that he had founded when he was very young, when he was 21, and he had sort of grown up and his identity was deeply tied into it and he’d been told he wasn’t good enough for it anymore. He wasn’t good for the company

Price: He came back from his trip saying that he had learned from his time at Apple how not to manage a company. Tetzeli says, though, that when he started NeXt – another computer company – he was making a lot of the same mistakes…

Tetzeli: The management style was part of it. He was also a spendthrift. Startups thrive by it being a small group of people working on a tight budget and being incredibly smart about what they’re doing and effective and efficient. He had big money from the beginning – his own money and then he had $200 million from Canon Computer and he had millions of dollars from Ross Perot – so there was an expenditure problem. And he had grand visions. He told Brent (Schlender) that he was building a payroll system for a billion-dollar company, but his company recorded more than $100 million in sales.

Price: The NeXt computer was geared toward education and business, but Tetzeli says it was too expensive for the education market, which wasn’t that big in the first place. Tetzeli says that the NeXt computer cost seven thousand dollars to buy, and didn’t do much more than the two thousand dollar workstations on the market…

Tetzeli: When he left Apple he took five key employees with him, and one of them was a man named Dan’l Lewin who had been central in setting up Apple’s sales to the education world. And Lewin tried to do some of the same things he had done at Apple, but he was undermined in the sense that he told the schools that NeXt was going to create a cheap computer — it didn’t do that. He told the schools that they would get their computer in two years — they didn’t come close to matching that deadline. Steve just missed a lot of signals at that point. But luckily the failure taught him something and he did take it to heart.

Price: Jobs’ real love was Pixar – the animation company that created films in the Toy Story franchise, Finding Nemo, Cars, The Incredibles and Up, to name just a few. Jobs invested in Pixar before it became the success that it is today, and served as its chief executive. Tetzeli says that his relationship with the staff at Pixar was much different than it was at Apple and NeXt, and it forced him to sit back, watch and learn how to foster creativity in others…

Tetzeli: He learned so much by watching Pixar. And the thing is he had to watch Pixar. He couldn’t meddle in the details at Pixar, because Pixar was run by a very – and still is run – by a very, very strong manager named Ed Catmull. And Catmull kept Steve at arm’s length even when the company finally got around to making movies. Steve was not allowed into the meetings where the directors and the animators critiqued the dailies or the stills, what the animators had produced. He was always kept on the outside, so he really had to watch Ed Catmull brilliantly manage a group of creative talents.

Price: So was it good that Jobs was sidelined at Apple? Tetzeli says probably. Especially when you consider how the company took off again when he returned…

Tetzeli: Steve and his crew they always had made the software to go with the hardware, they made the “whole widget” as they said. Then they started to make applications, and they made one for movies. It was a good piece of software but his execs said, “Steve, we’re missing the boat here. Movies is not where the action is. The action is in music.” And it took him a little while but then he’s like, “Oh, you’re right.” And so then he had this great management team and they could turn on a dime, and they started making iTunes software. And that led eventually to the iPod, and that eventually led to the online App Store. And so even though it’s a big departure from just making a computer, it does follow naturally.

Price: And that’s what Apple is known for today – the “experience” as much as the actual products of iPhones, iPads, iPods and the apps that make them work. No other technology company has consumers willing to wait outside, overnight, in all kinds of weather to be the first ones to buy their next big thing the way Apple does. And that was, in large part, because of Steve Jobs’ work. Tetzeli says that Jobs changed not just from his Pixar and NeXt experiences, but also from becoming a husband and father…

Tetzeli: They made such an effort to give that family middle-class values, despite the fact that their father was famous and outlandishly rich. And we talked to neighbors, and we talked to people who had known them for years and years and the consensus is they did a pretty good job of doing that. And that softens you, and it softened him too.

Price: Jobs died from complications due to pancreatic cancer in 2011, but Tetzeli says his legacy lives on in the way Apple has progressed into the consumer market, bringing innovative products like the iPhone to the public, and the way he changed business around the world…

Tetzeli: His legacy is that he put the power of mainframes in our hands. The iPhone is a transcendent object, it changes everything, really. It makes powerful computing mobile. I also think that the fact that things like design are now part of the common, corporate vocabulary, that’s a result of Steve Jobs and Apple. Quality, customer service, our expectations of those things have grown tremendously because of the quality and customer service we have received from Apple over the years. So, I think his impact on the economy and corporate culture is truly, truly significant.

Price: You can read about the evolution of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in business and in life in Rick Tetzeli’s and Brent Schlender’s new book, Becoming Steve Jobs, available in stores and online and at BecomingSteveJobs.com. You can read more of Tetzeli’s work on his company’s site at FastCompany.com. For information about all of our guests, you can log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can also find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.

 

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