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Hearty congratulations, Steve Jobs! What for on this occasion? For yet another brilliant idea or an innovative product? No, this time what’s involved is the sum total of what this man has achieved in recent years. In November 2009 the business magazine Fortune declared Jobs the CEO of the decade, thus recognizing his transformational impact on the music, film and mobile telephone markets. In receiving the honor, Jobs is in the most exalted company. Only great trailblazers are or have been singled out in this way. Take Henry Ford, who was to shape the infant automobile industry for the future, or Juan Trippe, who with the airline PanAm invented global air travel: people with vision, entrepreneurs who transcended the boundaries.
Jobs is the CEO of our millennium. What’s more, he has constantly transcended boundaries. His ideas, visions and products have shaped the communications and entertainment world, they have brought things together that nobody had previously connected. He created the combination of ‘beautiful’, ‘functional’ and ‘simple’, of ‘surprising’ and ‘covetable’; thus setting a completely new standard. He did so as he started out in 1976, when he co-founded Apple, and once again when he returned to Apple. Meanwhile, according to his own statements he had one of the ‘most creative periods of his life’ with Next and Pixar, while Apple lost ground and the world turned to the Windows standard. Then Apple bought back Jobs, and with him came his products; beautiful, functional and simple. Surprising and utterly covetable. He heralded a transformation.
Jobs is Apple, and that with all the opportunities and the dangers. His fan community and investors are equally untiring in following what he does. His long illness caused emotional turmoil and stock exchange worries; his return, skepticism and relief. He has imitators enough beyond the world of Apple but by contrast, no successor within sight in the company. Apple as a brand is evidently not yet sufficiently mature to stand for everything that Steve Jobs today embodies in one person. Yet a cult of personality is nothing unusual in the computer industry. Bill Gates of Microsoft or Larry Ellison of Oracle are personalities whose visions and ideas have stirred attention and excitement – and thereby a certain love-hate. But only Jobs has achieved a worldwide community that hangs (almost) unreservedly on his pronouncements. This is vexed by the high prices, waits patiently in queues on the day when new products first go on sale, and tolerates such peculiarities as the exclusion from repair of Macbooks with innards coated with nicotine. Microsoft dominates the PC world with its operating system and applications, and yet Bill Gates is anything but loved for that. Apple encapsulates its users in its own system of iPhone, iPod, iTunes and App Store, and Steve Jobs is idolized by his adherents. Logic alone cannot explain this.
Yet Jobs is no missionary, bidding people follow him. At work he is seen as tricky at times, but his standards are certainly high. He reputedly once complained about the design of memory chips. A Mac board, he felt, needed to look as good as possible, even if contained in the housing and seen by nobody. His public pronouncements, again, are of unassuming clarity, his presence is objective and friendly. He is no preacher, but somebody who persuades with logic and arguments. His added value derives from the fact that for all the reasonableness of his ideas, he also strikes an emotional chord in the consumer – hence becoming a seducer. Jobs simultaneously suggests that he is not striving for any primacy, but simply wishes to give people the best he has. That’s credible and authentic. And for Apple, it has paid off.
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was worth just 4 billion dollars – as against 62 billion for Hewlett Packard. Today HP is valued at 119 billion dollars, Apple at 184 billion. The quarterly figures posted by Apple at the end of September 2009 once again gave reason for rejoicing. Revenues were up 25 percent, net profit by 47 percent. Taking all quarters together, Apple ended its financial year – for the industry as a whole quite possibly the worst ever – with revenues up by 13 percent and profit 18 percent higher than the previous year’s. Jobs is the supremo for an impressive 34,000 staff and 275 Apple stores worldwide. Apple is the world’s largest music trader and sold 8.5 billion units in 23 countries.
Apple is closely linked with Jobs, and he with Apple. Anybody knowing Jobs is liable to become a brand fan very rapidly, thus securing the company’s future for the next decade. According to one US survey, Americans aged between 12 and 17 regard Steve Jobs as more important than Oprah Winfrey. “He made the world a better place,” said these young people in justifying this, also citing his success in so many areas. Fortune magazine took a similar view is declaring him entrepreneur of the decade – quite rightly. Hearty congratulations, Steve Jobs!> Back to overview