Steve Jobs formed Apple in 1976 and built and sold the world’s first commercially successful personal computers at a time when mainframes were the norm.
So by mid-80s, when Jobs turned 30, Apple was already a $2 billion company.
In May 1985, Jobs was fired from Apple by the company’s chief executive officer (CEO) John Sculley and the board.
Imagine being fired from the company you started and by the very people you helped recruit.
Ironically, in 1983, Jobs had successfully lured Sculley from PepsiCo, where he was the president, to come on board as CEO of Apple.
Jobs later recounted this episode in a speech made to Stanford University’s graduating class in 2005.
He had said, “And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of future began to diverge and eventually, we fell out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him.”
Now, whatever transpired with Jobs, leads us to a bigger question — what is it about creative geniuses that alienates people and drives them away?
In fact, David Marcum and Steven Smith, in their book Egonomics — What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (Or Most Expensive Liability), strive to answer this very question.
According to the authors, it isn’t the creative genius that alienates people, but what is missing from the characters of these geniuses that leads to the trouble.
Early in his career, Jobs was described as someone who ruled “by force of personality, making numerous economies with his ridiculing the ideas of others, his unwillingness to hear views contrary to his own and his outbursts of bad temper,” the authors say.
Humility wasn’t exactly Jobs’ middle name.
“What he (Jobs) accomplished to that point is a narrow view of what he was capable of achieving. When we’re too narrow in our development of traits, we limit what we accomplish. As it turns out, humility had a lesson in store for Jobs that would balance his creative genius and as a result widen what he achieved,” write Marcum and Smith.
Jobs was a very public failure.
So he admitted in his speech at Stanford in 2005, which the authors have included in the book. “So at 30, I am out. And a very public out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down…I met with David Packard…and tried to apologise for screwing up so badly,” said Jobs.
The lack of humility finally did Jobs in. As Marcum and Smith write, “If we don’t let humility teach us first, circumstances — like a stock market correction — will usually do the job.” Jobs had been left stunned at the turn of events in his career and was unable to find an explanation for it. “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick,” Jobs said in his speech.
After being fired, Jobs started a new company.
The authors write, “Ejected from Apple, Jobs started his next venture, a computer company appropriately named NeXT. But NeXT didn’t come close to producing the success of Apple. Seven years later, Jobs closed the factory, laid off half the employees and shifted the company’s direction to software development. Not until 1995 did NeXT turn a profit. In December of that same year, Apple bought the company for $400 million. The same year Jobs started NeXT, he also bought a struggling computer animation studio named Pixar from movie mogul George Lucas.”
Pixar did better than NeXT, winning an Oscar for a short film Tin Toy in 1988, securing a three-movie deal from Walt Disney and starting work on the famous movie —The Toy Story.
The best though was yet to come.
“In 1997, it must have felt like déjà vu when Jobs was named “interim” CEO of Apple, which was in a near free fall.” the authors write.
One of his first moves was to drop the very operating system that he had developed at NeXT and that Apple had purchased from him two years earlier. That move wasn’t the Steve Jobs of old. The authors quoted Susan Kelly Barnes, former chief financial officer of NeXT, as saying — ‘Every year he’s mellowed and matured.’
Things clearly had changed. But what happened in the meanwhile?
“Jobs’ management style had radically changed from what it had been in 1985. He now seemed more relaxed and open to ideas. In fact, he seemed to relish other people’s ideas; perhaps his work at Pixar had improved his ability to work with the creative people at Apple. He wisely surrounded himself with top-notch executives in all key corporate positions, and he held on to them rather than driving them away… Moreover, Jobs, the hobbyist of old, brought the fun back into tinkering with electronics,” writes Kirk Beetz, in a biography of Jobs.
Jobs also thought on similar lines.
“I’m pretty sure none of this [NeXT, Pixar, his return to Apple, the iPod, and iTunes] would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple,” Jobs had said. “It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.”