Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, kept a tight grip on his company as he resurrected the dying technology firm and drove it to greatness, letting few stand in the way of his relentless quest for perfection.
The shock of his death on Wednesday at the age of 56 after a battle with cancer continues to resonate around the world.
But while Jobs was lauded as a genius who touched lives and reshaped modern culture with creations such as the iPhone and iPad, he was also remembered for being the toughest of managers, with a dark side to his personality.
“He was like a rock star, one way on stage and another when he’s had a bad day,” said Jay Elliot, who worked as a senior vice president of human resources for five years under Jobs in the California company’s early days.
“Steve was a strong guy,” said Elliot, whose book “The Steve Jobs Way” was published earlier this year. “You had to be ready to take his opinion and push back.”
Jobs had a reputation of a merciless and micro-managing executive in Silicon Valley and was inducted into a Forbes magazine’s “Bully Bosses Hall of Fame.”
“He had a cruelty streak,” Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle said of Jobs.
“Given all the success, he had an inferiority complex you couldn’t believe and didn’t respond well to feeling threatened,” the analyst said.
Tales include Jobs firing employees at the slightest offenses and cowing new hires in order to test their mettle.
He was reportedly asked once to give a pep talk to an underperforming Apple team, and subsequently inspired them with a dim forecast for the longevity of their employment if things didn’t change. Thus, the team improved its performance.
Criticism of Jobs’ management style is often spun out of context, according to Elliot, who said Jobs fired no one from Apple while he worked there in human resources.
His blunt clashes with workers and penchant for closely managing projects were intended to build the best products and were typically not personal, according to Elliot.
“He was just trying to do the best he could in the betterment of the product and the company,” Elliot said of Jobs, maintaining that Apple has one of the lowest employee turnover rates among technology firms.
“The thing about Steve and his duality; his upside of changing the world with incredible products outweighed the negativity people ran into.”
Jobs was sometimes criticised for hiring John Sculley to provide “adult supervision” as chief executive at Apple only to plan a failed coup that backfired and resulted in Jobs being forced out in 1985.
“Steve was crying that Sculley was ruining the company, and he was right,” Elliot recalled of Jobs’s decision to take the chief executive on. “He was young then, and there was an immaturity to him.”
Jobs was vindicated when he was brought back in 1996 to run Apple anew, giving him the opportunity to create the iPod, iPhone and iPad and make Apple one of the world’s most valuable firms.
While a brilliant pitchman for Apple, Jobs was notoriously private about his personal life. Some of that tendency was reflected in the way the company disclosed little of what happened inside its walls. Jobs fathered a daughter when he was just 23, but left the child to sink into poverty. It was years before he admitted being the dad.
“At the end of the day, Steve Jobs was a great person,” Enderle said. “A lot of times it’s the flaws in a diamond that make it special.”
Along with losing a strong-willed visionary, the world has lost one of the last blunt-talking technology firm bosses, Elliot said.
“In the industry today these CEOs don’t say anything... Steve said exactly what he thought.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2011.
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