Commercial awareness: think like a professional about... Steve Jobs' death

The Gateway reveals how a banker, lawyer, accountant and consultant react to the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

The world bids farewell to Apple CEO

Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive officer of technology company Apple, died on October 5 as a result of medical problems stemming from the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with in 2004.

Reactions to the news came swiftly. Tributes to Jobs' significance as a business leader and creative genius flooded the world's media. US President Barack Obama, in a statement released on the White House website, said "Steve was among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it." Longtime professional rival Bill Gates of Microsoft said: "The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had", while the founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, remembered Jobs as a "mentor and friend".

Ordinary citizens also rushed to share their thoughts on Jobs' passing, often enabled to do so by the technological innovations of the past decades which he played a part in developing and popularising. Twitter is estimated to have registered a record 10,000 tweets a second in the hours after the sad news broke, while Jobs-related traffic was also high on Facebook, blogs and other internet portals. Many people also visited Apple stores around the world to leave messages, and items including flowers, candles - and apples.

The scale of the public reaction is testimony to Jobs' much-praised ability to develop technological products that people loved using. Under his stewardship of Apple, which spanned over 30 years, the company produced a string of iconic products including Macintosh computers, the iMac and the iPad, all lauded both for their striking appearances as much as for their ease of use, both of which made them wildly popular despite the fact that they were not always the most technologically groundbreaking items of their type.

He suffered setbacks in his career, most notably his dismissal by Apple's board in 1985. But between this event and his return to Apple a decade later, he worked successfully with another technology company, NeXT and with what became animation studio Pixar. He later said that his period of absence from Apple was "one of the most creative periods of my life" and an experience which contributed to his successes on return to Apple in 1996.

The highlights of the latter stages of his career were Apple's smartphone, the iPhone, and its tablet computer, the iPad. With a new iPhone model recently launched and due to hit stores shortly, the legacy of his work at Apple very much lives on.

Think like an ...accountant

  • Opting out: As a diligent and scrupulous accountant, I feel duty bound to highlight one of the biggest scandals in Apple's history. In the middle of the last decade, it came to light that Apple had been backdating employee stock options. Essentially, this practice is an accounting fiddle - senior employees are given the option to purchase shares in the company (which is fine), but at an earlier and, usually, lower price than the one at which they currently trade on the market (which is not). Jobs was found to be not directly involved, but admitted that the misdeeds had occurred on his watch, and duly apologised.
  • Any spare change for Obama? As an Apple fan, I'm pleased to say that, despite the sad loss of its CEO, the company looks in good financial shape. In July, it reported a 125 per cent rise in profits over the quarter to June 2011. And what's more, Apple has always been known for maintaining high cash reserves but, astonishingly, it appears that the conglomerate now has a bank balance nearly $3 billion greater than that of the US nation. Goodness me.

Think like a ...lawyer

  • All in the detail: Lawyers "heart" Steve Jobs. When we heard how he phoned up an engineer on a Sunday with an urgent concern about how the iPhone wasn't displaying quite the right shade of yellow in the second "o" in Google, we all thought the same thing: here is a man who would fit right in at a City law firm. In our line of work, attention to every tiny part of an intricate whole is the name of the game. In recent years, we've even started abandoning our beloved BlackBerries for iPhones.
  • Pieces of eight: One of the achievements of Jobs's career which has been less-trumpeted than others over the past days is the role he played in a reduction in music piracy. Before the iTunes, and now iCloud, era, the only ways to access single tracks online were illegal. By facilitating the legal purchase and/or storage of songs online by consumers for a small fee, Jobs has earned the gratitude of the record industry, and a nod for his ingenuity from all those working in intellectual property.

Think like a ...banker

  • Floating my boat: In the annals of the finance world, Apple is up there at the dizzy heights. Its 1981 flotation generated more capital in real terms that any other since Ford's in 1956. Why? As with Henry Ford and the motor car, Jobs didn't invent world-changing products - in his case, the personal computer, or the MP3 player - but created simple versions of them, that everyone wanted to own. Last summer, Apple even briefly overtook oil company Exxon Mobil as the world's most valuable listed company.
  • Rising in the east: We bankers love to chat about the current power shift in the world's economy away from the US and towards Asia - and Apple is a great example. It's common knowledge - just turn over your iPhone - that Apple's products are put together in China, but it's also worth bearing in mind that Apple's products are hugely popular among China's middle classes. In the future, China and other Asian economies are likely to be significant to western conglomerates as providers of customers for their luxury goods, as well as staff for their factories.

Think like a ...consultant

  • There to be broken: We consultants like our market research and spotting trends, but it appears that Steve Jobs didn't. His tenure at the top at Apple was characterised by decisions which seemed to go against market wisdom at the time, but were proved right - such as opening Apple-branded stores, or producing a product - a tablet computer - that hadn't previously grabbed the market. His reasoning? We hear he was fond of an ice hockey analogy (and we do love a good inspirational analogy): "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it's been."
  • Our great leader: Now that Steve Jobs has glided away for good, we wonder how Apple will fare without him calling the shots. How important is the personal charisma of leaders to corporate success? It's hard to quantify, but the markets at least do the maths: Apple's share price on NASDAQ dropped 5 per cent after his resignation, and fell again after his death. However, we think these are just jitters in a very jumpy environment - word on the street is that Jobs did the right thing HR-wise and planned carefully, putting in place a detailed succession plan.

Comments