Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Awful, Incompetent, Malfeasant, Terrible-Boss...CEO?

As I write this, portions of the U.S. federal government have been shut down for over a month. And while there are a variety of views regarding the blame for the government shutdown, one fairly popular view places the fault at the feet of the President of the United States.

On Google Plus (note: this link won't work in a few months), Dave Hill describes one of the consequences of this. His post is entitled "The Awful, Incompetent, Malfeasant, Terrible-Boss President."

By Shealah Craighead - White House, Public Domain, Link

The President of the United States is many things, but one huge one is that he is the CEO and, well, President of the biggest organization in the US. A million federal workers work for him. And he is not just letting them down, he is actively screwing them.

Hill then describes the plight of many unpaid essential workers, including employees of the Coast Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and various parts of the Department of Homeland Security.

So, if President Trump has truly let these federal workers down, why is that? One possible reason is Trump's priority on loyalty. In the Trump Organization, he could insist that every employee be personally loyal to him. The federal government hasn't worked that way since the days of President Arthur. Trump can say "you're fired" to the political appointees, such as Jeff Sessions and Jim Mattis, but he can't terminate civil service workers.

The image, depending upon whom you talk to, is of a heroic President battling against millions of agents of the Deep State, or or a buffoon President wrecking a functioning government.

Either way, you have a head of an organization who is battling against his employees - something that would NEVER EVER EVER happen in the corporate world.

Um...think again. And look at the history of one of the most valuable companies in the known universe. Say, around 1980.

That's the year that the company then known as Apple Computer completed its Initial Public Offering. Steve Jobs was Chairman of Apple Computer, but not its Chief Executive Officer (at the time, that position was held by Michael Scott). Because CEOs rather than Chairmen ran Apple at the time, Steve Jobs was bored:

With the initial public offering of Apple Computers in December 1980, Steve Jobs became a multimillionaire – however, he possessed neither enough stock to lead Apple Computers alone nor to determine his own position within Apple. By the beginning of 1981, he actually found himself to be without management responsibility over any specific project.

Now perhaps for some board chairs, this would be fine. Let the professionals run the company, and just provide a bit of guidance. But this didn't sit well with Jobs, and wouldn't sit well with anyone who thought of himself as a (using 21st century terminology) stable genius. So he found something to do.

To Jef Raskin’s discomfort, [Jobs] threw himself into the Macintosh project, which had not been taken really seriously by the Apple board of management at that time.

As a consequence of throwing himself behind the Mac, Jobs not only considered the Apple II as the enemy (despite the fact that the bulk of Apple Computer's revenues would continue to be from the Apple II for years to come), but also considered the Lisa as the enemy. The fact that these were Apple products themselves didn't matter - Jobs would get what he wanted, regardless of how it affected the overall company.

Steve Jobs kind of came bopping by my [Andy Hertzfeld's] cubicle saying OK you’re working on the Mac now. And I said well I have to finish up this Apple 2 stuff I’m doing here. No you don’t that stinks that’s not going to amount to anything you gotta start now. And I said well just give me a few days to finish and he said no and what he did was he pulled the plug on my Apple 2 that I was programming just losing, losing the code I’m working on and start taking my computer and walking away with it and what could I do but follow him out to his car cause he had my machine he plopped it down in the trunk and drove me over to this remote building, took the computer out, walked upstairs, plopped it down on a desk, well you’re working on the Mac now.

Everyone knows how that turned out - the pirate flag, the name-calling of nearly everyone as bozos, the grandiose introduction of a revolutionary product that changed computer history...followed by lackluster sales. After a boardroom struggle between Jobs and his hand-picked CEO John Sculley, Jobs was impeached and convicted - whoops, I mean he was fired and/or resigned, and left Apple to start a new company, cherry-picking a few of Apple's key employees along the way.

Now I'm not the only one to compare the management styles of Steve Jobs and Donald Trump. Take a guy that we all know as Woz.

Asked whether Tesla CEO Elon Musk is similar to Jobs, the Apple co-founder replied: "Having been close to Steve Jobs, and not that close to Elon Musk, I'd say Steve Jobs is more like (President) Trump."

I fear I hear gasps of horror. Was Woz suggesting that he was the Mike Pence of his day?

Woz, however, justified his comparison by saying this of Jobs: "A lot of shocking things you would never hear about, but you would never want your own child to be that way. You'd just be shocked that a human being would do those things."

Some would claim that Woz may still bear a grudge because Jobs cheated him in an early business deal. But that early business deal is reminiscent of something our President would do.

But because this is my blog, I'll give myself the last word. This is something that I wrote two years ago, in January 2017.

We try to make pirates into beloved cuddly creatures, but pirates can be cut-throat and not nice at all. There are a bunch of victims of Donald Trump, just as there are a bunch of victims of Steve Jobs. The talent, or curse, of pirates is that they have the vision and temperament to look at a society and its rules and decide to do something better while breaking a number of rules along the way. For each pirate, we have to decide if piracy is worth it.
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