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(Image courtesy of The New York Times)
Although it may have seemed like the end of the world when co-founder Steve Jobs left Apple back in 1985, many observers feel that the company wouldn’t be on such strong footing today if it hadn’t gone down the way it did.
The New York Times has a fascinating article which looks at the life lessons Apple CEO Steve Jobs learned in his nearly 12-year exile from the company he founded with Steve Wozniak, and how he managed to turn things around after his return in 1997.
Proving the old adage “those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them,” Steve Jobs has done a remarkable job of not only saving Apple from the brink of death since his return in 1997, but building it “into one of the most valuable companies in the world,” according to The Times.
After being “relieved of his operating responsibilities” during a company reorganization in May, 1985, Jobs remained as Apple’s chairman during the dark days following the introduction of the Macintosh the previous year. That is, until September, 1985 when resigned and started NeXT, which would ultimately lead Jobs back to Apple more than a decade later.
So what did Jobs learn from his NeXT days? Mostly humility and how to stop micro-managing and delegate authority, it would seem. After being advised to keep his educational-focused NeXT systems under $2,000 by university advisers, the company finally released the first system in 1988 for a whopping $6,500 -- not to mention another $2,000 just for the printer alone!
From 1992 to 1993 alone, seven out of nine NeXT vice presidents either abandoned ship or were shown the door, largely because Jobs refused to delegate authority and took “almost every aspect of the machine” under his watchful eye. While the systems were a thing of beauty, after seven years and only 50,000 computers sold, Jobs finally had no choice but to pull the plug, lay off more than half of the 500 employees and focus his efforts on selling NeXT software instead.
That fateful decision brought him back to Apple, who wound up acquiring NeXT in 1997 and using the company’s software as the foundation for Mac OS X -- and most of us know how that story played out. Jobs wisely learned from his years of exile and managed to steer Apple’s ship into new waters, which have led the company into a successful line of portable devices, all the while slowly increasing the core Mac market share as well.
“He didn’t invent the media player, the smartphone or the tablet, but he understood that no one else had yet come up with the equivalent of a Mac,” Randall Stross notes. “So these offered ripe opportunities for him to bring his design talents to bear.”
The Times also notes that the executive team surrounding Jobs at Apple has seen very little turnover or drama, which many attribute to the life lessons learned during his NeXT days.
“He’s the same Steve in his passion for excellence, but a new Steve in his understanding of how to empower a large company to realize his vision,” explains Kevin Compton, a senior executive at Businessland who dealt with Jobs during his NeXT days.
It may have taken 12 long years, but we’re enjoying the fruits of Jobs’ labor today as the company continues to ride high and introduce innovative new products.
Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter