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Finding this blogpost dated more than eight years ago gave an opportunity to look at Apple and its co-founder's remaining effects on the company since his death almost five years ago.

I would contend that while the company's current CEO seems to be doing a good job according to press, it seems that the company had such a toxic culture led by one person that it could not be sustained by another leader thus leaving the company vulnerable in a quickly changing industry.

Shortly after the co-founder's death, there had been many rumors of employees or even groups of them defecting for competitors or starting their own. Those rumors have been vague.

What's clear is that Apple has been very actively buying back its stock over the last few years (as an aside, its insiders have been heavily selling) and that may be connected to stock options held by those employees that remain.

Its co-founder had lauded stock options as "golden handcuffs." As a financial analyst, I'd guess that Apple today has no choice but to be generous with these stock options as well as having to continue buying back stock in order to sustain the share price for otherwise the handcuffs fall off. Though talent wars are common in the Valley, this may be an under-appreciated aspect of a cost to the company as a result of its prior leadership.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell has stated that in decades from now the co-founder will be largely forgotten but Bill Gates will not be for, at least, the latter is attempting to cure malaria and benefit billions of poor people in the world. Who will care then about the marketing genius behind the iPhone? How many people can name the inventors of radio, television or even the Sony Walkman?

As Al Dunlap's later career exemplified, jerk organizational leaders may be very effective for short-term results. They also leave behind a trail of costs from disaffection that may impair the enterprise once they're gone.


iSorry, But Steve Jobs Was a Jerk



I've puzzled over Steve Jobs' management style and Apple's elegance in design time and again. Even after reading your book and the caveat that is chapter 6, I still come to your ultimate conclusion in item 6 of this post (wow, that's a little creepy...item 6 - chapter 6). I think regardless of why he's a jerk, Steve's failure to nurture future innovators for Apple will ultimately be its downfall. Command and Control + Jerk = Defunct.

Newt Bailey

"If the journey is the reward, then why would any of us choose to travel with a companion who treats his fellow travelers like dirt?" I'm with you Bob, and I see that it's a big "if." No doubt there are many suffering through days of painful communication with co-workers and bosses, who are hoping that the reward will come in the future, since it's not showing up in the journey.

I second Lavinia Gene Weissman's comment that "companies exist for a purpose that is far greater than a CEO's personal vision or what drives a heroic leader to drive."
How about redefining the purpose of a company as supporting the human race, and the planet, *AND* ensuring that employees look forward to coming to work in the morning. 40 to 60 hours a week is far too much to spend in the company of people you regard as assholes.

I agree with Wally Bock that "When people move into positions of power, especially great power, other people treat them differently." In many cases the people reporting to you will have unresolved resistance or hostility towards perceived authority figures. If you want to create a culture of trust and full creativity you'll probably need to do a better job of listening to your employees than their parents or teachers did. Meanwhile you've got deadlines to meet, so it's tempting to disregard "soft skills" like listening, and to just "push on," even if a few people get trodden on in the process. Learn to listen! You'll like yourself a whole lot more.


Bob - clearly a stimulating post. Taking your points and some of the comments as starting points have we actually though about this from Jobs point of view ? What does it take to get thru a consistent vision, that's proven remarkable, and turn it into products. Civilized leadership presumes a known direction. Having run more than a view teams I've experience it both ways. One particularly team created an industry breakthru in replenishment strategy largely over the sullen foot-dragging of several members who thought they had a better notion. On my confidential reviews I got dinged for leadership and the a-factor. On the other hand we did a startlingly complex, complete, forward-looking and prescient piece of work. That's still a decade ahead of industry best practices. Which would not have see the light of day otherwise IMHO. Or at least would have taken more persuasion, leadership, energy and time than I could give it.
That seems like a worthy project for further investigation perhaps ?


"Steve Jobs running the company from jail would be better for the stock price than Steve Jobs not being CEO."

Interesting comparison. Let's substitute 'Balmer' for 'Jobs' in that arguement and you have the germ for an entirely new article.

Lavinia Gene Weissman

Hello Bob,

I have given much thought to this. When I first came to Silicon Valley (now based in Park City, Utah), there were a number of books describing the young heroic CEOs of Silicon Valley and their very poor interpersonal skills. (No females allowed in this club).

At one point there was a joke about how when Jobs and McNealy (of Sun) got married, their wives put them through finishing school, perhaps e.g. Bill Gates.

Creative people, especially innovators may be the least understood and hard to work with some say. I don't believe that any more and the creativity/innovation that comes out of IDEO from teams is a great example of this.

I have had a few gigs at Sun Microsystems during times of difficulty. It is my belief that Silicon Valley is changing and the talent pool wants something different than "ego" that goes beyond your ARSEHOLE principle.

I think when Jonathan Schwartz replaced Scott McNealy as President and Scott becamse Chairman, this decision/action spoke to the need for more civility and a different kind of leadership in high tech not based on drive and heroics or ARSEHOLE Behavior. The blog Schwartz started also modeled a need for a leadership style of civility and innovation that was not dominated by the behavior of marketing and sales that also lacked customer service.

You are surrounded by a number of companies that you and Jeffrey Pfeffer have written about where you describe people who are leaders and hero/heroines at places like Google, Apple and more.

Jeff, I believe although I may be wrong is working with some folks I know at WalMart and that can be viewed in some respect as a company of ARSEHOLE past and sometimes present.

My point is that companies and leaders form corporate culture and an excellent company invites people to be themselves and maybe create a system of civility that surrounds it that tames the heroic tactics that people like Jobs, McNealy and John Mackey of Whole Foods can also model. Although I must say Jobs, also presents a behavior that is far more attractive then Sculley, Spindler and Gil Amelio.

Google is a heroic company coming of age and growing up as well and times are changing.

Success Factors the same and Lars is definitely a hero, who made a lost company perform and thrive.

Somewhere in the mix there are heroes and heroines and somewhere in the mix there are teams of people who must activity that is critical to heroic success. Doesn't it take all kinds?

But the real issue I believe re: leadership is what the leader (ARSEHOLE or Egoticistical Hero or Civil Leader invite and how that is injected into the DNA of the company.

It is my belief that some of the leadership material offered by Strategy and Business Magazine looks at that seriuosly and how the DNA is formed in that regard to me it is not about individuals, but about how Core Groups of decision makers beckon and welcome the best performance out of social networks and when Core Groups realize that companies exist for a purpose that is far greater than a CEO's personal vision or what drives a heroic leader to drive.

William Parker

Hi Bob:

My name is William and I am CEO of the blog, . I found out about your blog through the I look at your website regularly and I think it is good. In fact I have bookmarked it. I would like to partner and trade links with you. I am based in Chicago and I receive traffic locally as well as from all over the world. I hope to hear back from you soon and if you have any questions please let me know. If you decide to trade links with us please send back your web address and how you would like your site's name to be listed. If you decide to trade links with us, use the name Joboja and the URL: . Until then have a great day.

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Wally Bock

I have a bit of trouble with the idea that people achieve positions of power and that turns them into jerks. I've seen enough truly powerful people up close to know that this is not inevitable. I think that we're seeing a second-order effect.

When people move into positions of power, especially great power, other people treat them differently. Almost all the messages that the person in power receives will be filtered, many through the self-interest of subordinates. In addition, the person in power is told that he or she can do no wrong. This is not just true for people in power, it's also true for celebrities.

In Jobs' case this is multiplied because people at Apple saw him as a savior when he came back.

Michael Lee Stallard


Thanks for a great thought-provoking post. Here's another perspective. The words and deeds of leaders either pull members of the group together, at one extreme, or tear them apart, at the other extreme. When a leader pulls the group together it produces trust, cooperation and esprit de corps, elements that are present to a high degree in the most effective organizations.

Like each of us, Steve Jobs has his strengths and his weaknesses, some of which may also be blind spots. For example, Jobs has an off the charts passion for beauty and excellence which is recognized as one of the 24 universal character strengths identified by psychologists. The "think different" ad campaign, Apple's design prowess and wonderful visual identity all flow from Jobs' strength in this area. He may be the strongest CEO I've ever seen in this particular area that I've described in my book at "Inspiring Identity." Apple's strengths in this area unite the community of Apple employees and customers.

What I describe as "human values" such as kindness, love of people, forgiveness, etc. are character strengths that pull people together too. This is true because they increase the empathy among individuals in the culture. Job's appears to be weak in this area but getting better. Life's inevitable challenges have a way of giving us perspective and Jobs' experience fighting cancer and becoming a parent have probably given him him some perspective too. At least I hope so, for his sake and that of his family, friends and Apple.

Finally, there is the cluster of character strengths such as humility, openmindedness, curiosity, etc. that affect communications, decision-making and innovation. I refer to these as "Knowledge Flow." Jobs appears to have a mixed record when it comes to these. He strikes me as curious but not necessarily humble. A great example of a leader who excels in this area is A.G. Lafley of P&G.

To summarize my comments, great leaders pull people together and create high degrees of trust, cooperation and esprit de corps when their words and deeds increase the feeling of shared identity, empathy and knowledge. All in all, Jobs and Apple appear to be unified on the strength of Apple's identity that emanates from Steve Jobs' passion for beauty and excellence. Jobs and Apple are vulnerable when it comes to the human value that increases empathy in the community and the Knowledge Flow that makes people feel "in the loop." In good times, these weaknesses are less obvious. In difficult times, these cracks in Apple's foundation pose a threat to its long term survival.

I'm a big fan of Apple and I hope it continues to thrive. This week will post my manifesto on the competitive advantage of connection. I hope Steve Jobs reads it.

Jack Chou

The stories about his obsession about aesthetics reminds me of some stories I've read about another famous asshole: Steve Wynn, of Mirage, Bellagio, and Wynn fame.

One great story was him disliking the color/shape of the lightbulbs an employee had chosen for one of his casinos, grabbing a bulb, throwing it against a wall, and simultaneously firing the employee.

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