I’ve read more than a few articles since Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO that question how Apple will perform without him there to call all the shots. It reminded me of a conversation he had with Walt Mossberg at the D8 conference (starting at around the 1-hour mark). He was asked what a typical work day for him would be like:
Jobs: What I do all day is meet with teams of people and work on ideas and solve problems to make new products, to make new marketing programs, whatever it is.
Mossberg: And are people willing to tell you you’re wrong?
Jobs: (laughs) Yeah.
Mossberg: I mean, other than snarky journalists, I mean people that work for…
Jobs: Oh, yeah, no we have wonderful arguments.
Mossberg: And do you win them all?
Jobs: Oh no I wish I did. No, you see you can’t. If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.
Mossberg: But you must be more than a facilitator who runs meetings. You obviously contribute your own ideas.
Jobs: I contribute ideas, sure. Why would I be there if I didn’t?
I love the last line. Jobs says it so matter of factly, as if it’s obvious. And it is, to him. But for many people it’s not, they think Jobs is there because he’s Jobs. Period. Yet from his answer you can see that in his mind he’s there because he’s another of the “great people” working at Apple and helping make the decisions about which ideas are best.
No one denies that the Apple executive team is brilliant, yet it seems many are willing to believe they’re just puppets. I’d argue the two are mutually exclusive. Jobs is right, brilliant people won’t stand for the best idea consistently losing. They’ll leave. I think there’s a reason for this management team’s relative longevity. They like making consistent winners, not being shouted down by seniority or politics and producing failures.