Friday, October 21, 2011

Let Steve Jobs teach you how to hate

If you saw my post on the unreality of the social media world, you knew this was coming. In that post, I said (in part):

(Just try to remove the halo from Steve Jobs; you'll be crucified. Which is why I'm holding off on writing my post, "Let Steve Jobs teach you how to hate." Yes, I'm unreal also.)

No one is perfect. I certainly am not perfect. But before we hold anyone up as an example, we have to decide which parts of him we want to hold up for emulation, and which parts should not be emulated.

And when you talk about Steve Jobs in this regard, you have to talk about John Sculley. For those who don't know the name, here's Sculley's brief account (he has a more detailed one in his autobiography, Odyssey) about how Jobs and Sculley met.

I was not the first choice that Steve wanted to be the CEO. He was the first choice, but the board wasn’t prepared to make him CEO when he was 25, 26 years old.

They exhausted all of the obvious high-tech candidates to be CEO… Ultimately, David Rockefeller, who was a shareholder in Apple, said let’s try a different industry and let’s go to the top head hunter in the United States who isn’t in high tech: Gerry Roche.

They went and recruited me. I came in not knowing anything about computers. The idea was that Steve and I were going to work as partners. He would be the technical person and I would be the marketing person.

But there was an inherent conflict in the arrangement:

Remember, he was the chairman of the board, the largest shareholder and he ran the Macintosh division, so he was above me and below me.

And we all know the popular version of this story - Sculley forced Jobs out of Apple, and the company tanked until Jobs returned. The truth, however, is a little more nuanced. Andy Hertzfeld:

As the new year [1985] dawned, Steve Jobs seemed oblivious to the slowing sales, and continued to behave as if the Macintosh was a booming, unqualified success. His lieutenants in the Macintosh division, which had swelled to more than 700 employees, had to deal with a growing reality gap, reconciling the ever-changing audacious plans for world domination emanating from their leader with the persistent bad news from the sales channel....

The weak sales were beginning to put pressure on the relationship between Steve Jobs and John Sculley for the very first time. They had gotten along fine when everything was going well, but hitherto they never had to deal with much adversity. Unfortunately, in early 1985 the personal computer market was descending into one of its periodic downturns, and even Apple II sales were starting to falter. Steve did not take criticism very well, and sometimes reacted to suggestions for improving Macintosh sales as if they were personal attacks. Their relationship began to sour as John put pressure on Steve to address the Macintosh's problems.

Steve Jobs had never suffered fools gladly, and as the pressure mounted, he became even more difficult to work with. Employees from every part of the company began to approach John with complaints about Steve's behavior, including some of Steve's direct reports in the Macintosh Division. John felt especially strongly about building more compatibility bridges with the IBM PC, an approach which Steve disdained. John began to view Steve as an impediment toward fixing Apple's problems, and the board of directors were urging him to do something about it....

The conflict came to a head at the April 10th board meeting. The board thought they could convince Steve to transition back to a product visionary role, but instead he went on the attack and lobbied for Sculley's removal. After long wrenching discussions with both of them, and extending the meeting to the following day, the board decided in favor of John, instructing him to reorganize the Macintosh division, stripping Steve of all authority. Steve would remain the chairman of Apple, but for the time being, no operating role was defined for him.

John didn't want to implement the reorganization immediately, because he still thought that he could reconcile with Steve, and get him to buy into the changes, achieving a smooth transition with his blessing. But after a brief period of depressed cooperation, Steve started attacking John again, behind the scenes in a variety of ways. I won't go into the details here, but eventually John had to remove Steve from his management role in the Macintosh division involuntarily.

I quote Hertzfeld at length because even Hertzfeld, who believed that Jobs was the heart and soul of Apple, noted that this was not just a push by Sculley. Steve's own direct reports were complaining, and the board of directors was pushing Sculley to act. In fact, Sculley actually held off on implementing the reorganization, which resulted in even more trouble.

So what did Sculley say, in retrospect?

The reason why I said it was a mistake to have hired me as CEO was Steve always wanted to be CEO. It would have been much more honest if the board had said, “Let’s figure out a way for him to be CEO. You could focus on the stuff that you bring and he focuses on the stuff he brings.”

Sculley, the one derided by fanbois as a vision-less bean counter, was able to step back and look at the whole episode with perspective, despite his pain at a relationship lost. Sculley's autobiography describes his discovery of something that Jobs had left in his office. It was a picture of Jobs and Sculley together, taken in happier times; the picture was shattered.

And what of the proclaimed visionary Jobs? This is what he said in Triumph of the Nerds:

Jobs: What can I say? I hired the wrong guy. –
Question: That was Sculley?
Jobs: Yeah and he destroyed everything I spent ten years working for. Starting with me but that wasn’t the saddest part. I would have gladly left Apple if Apple would have turned out like I wanted it to.

From all accounts, Jobs carried his hatred of John Sculley to his deathbed.

So who truly had the vision?
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