Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Corporate Persona

The world is experiencing one of those life-jolts today as word spreads and news sinks in that Steve Jobs, the computer-visionary-turned-marketing-master, has died.

A sad moment, and a loss felt across an extraordinary slice of humankind. Steve Jobs was, as the Washington Post noted "Bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it."

He was a visionary man, a creative force, and carried with him the strength of his conviction. So much so, that the image, the Jobsian allure moved millions to embrace his take on "cool," and motivated an entire company to strive to perform at a higher level.

It wasn't always that way at Apple.

Point of fact, the company lost its way more than once (remember John Scully? Gil Amelio?) but clung to its core belief that its products were simple better than all the players in the PC marketplace, especially looking down upon its behemoth nemesis Microsoft. And even though at times the stumbles put it on a tenuous footing, the common thread of its ability to speak to a loyal base buoyed it through the troubles.

And, it's this thread, seemingly spun of gold that strengthened Jobs' ability to weave a bolder story in his second surge at the company, and eventually lead Apple, the Mac, the iPod, iPhone and iPad to new highs in corporate cache. He was all too aware of the power that gave him. Much like Edison's talent for driving innovation and promoting genius, Jobs established a culture inside and outside the company that kept a tight grip on opinion.

His PR machine let the media flail away and boost the company mystique often in spite of its efforts. The even more powerful marketing machine made geekiness even cooler, and brought technically-advanced products to the market in a such a cohesive manner that high tech became the sort of human support mechanism it's always purported itself to be. Apple products resonated with the buying public because they could make life easier.

We went along because we really wanted to think that Jobs believed in the better-living-through-modern-science promise AND understood the modern world's pent-up demand for such a product, such a company, such a leader. He championed that promise to harness the imagination and disposable income of millions.

Gurus take on all shapes and proportion to the problems they tackle. Jobs not only willed his company to enormous success, he also guided its image to a plateau that drove billions in sales and market value.

Lots of CEO's purport to lead. Many try to take on bigger/better leader status, and so many fail. The suit doesn't fit, and the music isn't right and the words don't sync with the picture. There is power at the top, but it simply doesn't shine brightly enough to light the whole building.

Is this the fault of the leadership or their public relations and marketing machines? Likely both, but the guiding light has to emanate from somewhere, and for all the stars, only so many are bright enough to cast shadows of significant proportion. We think you look to the top star because he/she has a gift for driving success, for seeing the timing and for embracing public need, but more importantly, the leader knows how to exponentially affect change via a core team of very strong followers. We think of this team as people who could be their own star, but choose to burn more brightly in a more cohesive glow.

They ALL mind the lighthouse, and the seafaring world is better for it.

That is the real genius of Jobs. He made the extraordinarily difficult seem magical (not easy) and he surrounded himself with talent and thinking that glowed even brighter with his guidance. Try to think
of another CEO so revered, and today so remembered. Nope, not there.

Corporate mavens, marketeers and PR flacks take note: if you're not up to the challenge either get out, or gear up. We all could use some Jobs-like greatness in today's economy, and the world is waiting for a sign.

RIP Steve Jobs. The world is better for your being, and perhaps "the Cloud" is seeing improvements as we lament your passing. Many a leader (and competitor) has survived your passing, but ever-so-few will come close to emerging from the shadow you cast.

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