By now, you've surely heard. Steve Jobs, the visionary behind Apple has passed away. There will be a million "legacy" stories written about the passing of Apple's front man, but the one I hope gets the most attention by investors is the story of Steve Jobs the CEO -- a true leader at a time when many in corner offices are frankly not worthy of the post.
Steve Jobs passionately built Apple with his own two hands, and he redoubled his efforts in 1997 to save the company from failure. He was a true leader who always wowed the masses with his creativity and never stopped making Apple better -- right up until the very end.
Wall Street's corner offices desperately need men and women with the vision and drive of this man. Instead we are stuck companies like Hewlett-Packard that have a revolving door in the corner office, a lack of vision and a mania for big buyouts and bigger layoffs. (Read why tech giant Hewlett-Packard represents everything that's wrong with corporate America). By contrast, Apple is a shining example of doing things the right way.
Lest you fall into that old Wall Street trap of counting money, understand that dollars and cents have nothing to do with money. Yes, Apple Inc. is now a $100 billion business thanks to Steve Jobs, and the man was one of the 50 wealthiest Americans at the time of his death. But Jobs was building a cultural force of a company more than building a bank account. Of course, it's easy to get rich when you're a cultural force -- but Steve Jobs knew which step had to come first. User experience and the products always came first.
Some may scoff at this statement that money was secondary at a publicly traded stock. But in case you haven't noticed, the folks who tend to put money first and foremost see only short-term success at best and long-term damage at worst. Think about record profits at banks due to subprime loans. Think of Detroit automakers who thought high-margin SUVs were the only vehicle worth making. I'm sure you can think of a dozen other examples. (And here are three more iconic U.S. brands that could soon be in the trash heap)
I admit, it's hard to believe that a CEO would do anything that isn't for money -- especially after the ugly headlines of the past few years. Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis got a $125 million payday when he left the smoldering wreckage of a financial company in 2009. (Just one of the many reasons why EVERYONE hates BofA these days.) Now-ousted Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz got nearly $50 million for her first year on the job before being fired 20 months later -- after accomplishing next to nothing. And she got a plush $10 million severance deal.
But Steve Jobs was different. He was a leader, a creative force, a true "business builder" as the phrase was meant to be used and not some joker with an MBA who has a Six Sigma certification.
Don't get me wrong -- he was far from perfect. By many accounts, his management style was a bit severe. And while Apple has many fans, it also has many critics of its control-freak mentality.
But that's the company Steve Jobs built. It was a business faithful to his vision above all else, and it achieved fantastic success as a result.
Wall Street would be wise to learn from how Steve Jobs built and ran Apple. It doesn't matter if you went to a fancy college. It doesn't matter how many boards you've sat on. Hell, it doesn't even matter if you can juice the earnings numbers this quarter to make analysts happy. Most folks agree that Wall Street "targets" for profits are always just lies and BS anyway.
The only way a company truly succeeds over the long term is if it finds a unique and creative way to connect with customers, and if it stays true to that vision above all else.
Yes, that's much harder than just watching the clock, waiting for that golden parachute to unfurl. But if corporate America is ever going to dig out of this current economic quagmire, we're going to need more CEOs who think this way.
Steve, shareholders everywhere need you more than ever. You will be sorely missed.
As of this writing, Jeff Reeves did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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