What Steve Jobs' biographer got right

Oct. 3, 2013

If you haven't already seen the movie about Steve Jobs' life, my advice would be not to bother. I lived through the early history of Jobs and Apple as an industry observer, and I found the movie to be pretty weak. I believe the creators were faced with a problem in bringing drama to the screen in that many of the important events in Jobs' life were basically business meetings. They were about as dramatic as most of the meetings you've undoubtedly taken part in yourself.

That said, the Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is much better. Speaking as an observer of some events the book portrays, I'd have to say the book's passages have the ring of truth to them.

Isaacson also gives Jobs the last word in his own biography. In the final few pages, Jobs makes some observations that come across particularly well for anyone working at a technology company. Here is my favorite:

"I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they're the ones who can move the needle on the revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent fantastic salesperson, but he didn't know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don't matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off."

About the Author

Lee Teschler | Editor

Leland was Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design. He has 34 years of Service and holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan, a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan;, and a MBA from Cleveland State University. Prior to joining Penton, Lee worked as a Communications design engineer for the U.S. Government.

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