In the past two years, I have purchased an iPhone, an iPad, a new Macbook Pro, an iPod Nano, and enough apps and mp3s to bog down my iTunes. Suffice it to say, I am an Apple user (you’d think I’d also be a stock owner, but, alas, I missed that boat). So when I heard the news this summer that Steve Jobs was stepping down as Apple’s CEO and taking a backseat chairman role, I have to say I was immediately worried about the future of one of my favorite companies. Why? Because I believe Steve Jobs is more than just a corporate executive. He is a visionary leader who knows what consumers want before they want it, and he is the driving force behind the beauty, simplicity, and intuitiveness of Apple’s products. (Just look at the style of his 1982 live/work “office”—see box above—and you’ll see the foreshadowing of Apple’s current aesthetic.) I read a fascinating article once about how Jobs was relentless in his pursuit of perfection with the iPod. He worked into the wee hours alongside product developers, pushed engineers to create simpler designs, and questioned every assumption by his marketing team on how the iPod would be received and advertised. The result was a device that revolutionized the entire music industry, more than CDs and Walkmans combined.
What’s most fascinating to me about Jobs is that his greatest asset is also often cited as his greatest downfall. Being creative and a perfectionist can also make you a difficult manager—he once made Fortune’s list of “America’s Toughest Bosses” thanks to his demanding personality. And there are dozens of examples of Jobs pushing the limits of propriety, asking too much of his employees, overstepping bounds, micromanaging.
Yet despite this, his employees are stalwart fans, mostly because he leads by example, throwing himself into the process of innovation, and, while that may be taxing for his team, he does so with gusto that is, at the end of the day, inspiring. And for that reason, I think Apple will continue to thrive without Jobs—because he has a quality team in place driven to deliver.
Most days, I aspire to be as versatile, dynamic, creative, and effective a leader as Jobs. I hope to embrace his philosophy on management. In fact, he has described his business model as following the style of The Beatles, saying, “They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”
I agree. Without a team of people who are motivated and driven to push for greatness, it doesn’t matter how dynamic a leader or manager you are. Jobs knew this—and it helped him continuously be ahead of trends as a CEO. Likewise, I know this to be true. I’m blessed at the magazine to have a team that is, indeed, greater than the sum of its parts. My staff gives 150 percent every day, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
Hopefully, at your companies, regardless of the type of leader or manager you are—or strive to be—you are similarly lucky to have a top-notch team that takes your vision and turns it into reality on a daily basis. I have often heard apartment executives say, “Our business is a people business.” And that’s true whether you’re talking about residents or employees.
So, for what it’s worth, to my employees and yours: We appreciate all you do. As Jobs indicated, you make our jobs as managers easier. And for that, I say thank you.