Jay Elliot on Job-less Apple

By September 21, 2011

If you are like me, you can’t imagine your life without your Macbook, iPod ,iPad or iPhone. Tech.li’s own editor-in-chief Jennifer Beese is known for her mobile email signature “Sent from my iPhone because Apple owns my soul” and she’s not the only one. Last quarter, Apple posted record quarterly revenues of $28.57 billion and a record quarterly net profit of $7.31 billion.

Under Steve Jobs’ direction, Apple created more than beautiful technology — he created a cultural movement, er, iMovement. And unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the man behind the iLife has stepped dow. Jobs’ resignation left many to wonder that will mean for the technology giant.

Jay Elliot is the former Senior Vice President of Apple Computer, where he directly reported to and worked closely with Jobs, as he was responsible for all corporate operations plus overall corporate business planning. During Elliot’s tenure at Apple sales grew from $150 million to more than $3 billion and he has just published a book detailing his experiences working alongside Jobs – iLeadership. I chatted with Elliot on his book, Jobs’ departure from Apple, and his take on a post-Jobs Apple.

LO: How did you first meet Jobs? I imagine it was a memorable experience …

JE: I met Steve at a Restaurant while waiting to be seated for dinner. We started to have a conversation about computers, he told me about Apple, I had never heard of Apple or him. He had a beard, so did I. After our conversation which lasted about ten minutes, he wanted my phone number. I gave it to him with no expectations. A head hunter I knew called me in about two weeks.

LO: Tell me he was wearing a black turtleneck…

JE: He was wearing a white T shirt, jeans and Birkenstock shoes. I also had a beard but was in dressy casual with a sports coat.

LO: Other than that he owns Birkenstock shoes, what don’t people know about Jobs? 

JE: Steve is actually a very shy and private person. His total passion for products and creating the best product in the world is his drive. The passion for the product overrides all other considerations such as his wealth, company stock prices, and so on. Those are all taken care by having exceptional products. His need for other things in life is very minimum.

LO: You watched Apple go from $150 million to $3 billion in sales. What changed in the company culture? In Jobs?

JE: Nothing changed in Steve Jobs. He always viewed the company as a “start up”, the company culture changed when John Sculley was hired as the President. He began the standard corporate culture with politics and bureaucracy. When Steve returned to Apple however, there was enough of the old culture and people to quickly return it to the “start up” mentality.

LO: How big of a role do you think Jobs played in Apple’s success?

JE: A major role. He was the product Czar and made sure all employees and the company were focused on making the best and easiest-to-use product for the consumers. He was also the face of the products, from the first Mac to the iPad.

LO:  What was Jobs like as a boss? As a  leader?

JE:  Steve has the ability to focus everyone in the company on building superior products; because of his focused approach to vision, communication, organization, attaching great talent, and keeping the consumer is always in everyones’ mind.

LO: What do you feel will be the hardest obstacle for Apple to overcome without Steve’s leadership? 

JE: Absolute product design and long term vision. When I say design I mean everything from the actual product, to the box, to the store, the complete Apple eco system is the design.

LO: You write that if you want innovation, you have to cultivate it. How did Jobs cultivate innovation? And how can CEOs outside of the tech space cultivate innovation in their company?

JE: Innovation under Steve was directed as part of a vision to perfect all elements of design. Steve lays out continued challenges for his team to achieve. For example, one button on the iPod. He doesn’t tell them how to achieve it, but they have to figure it out. The end goals are always celebrated along with great recogntion for the developers. Starbucks changed the face of the coffee market, that was not done by high tech, as an example. Fred Smith changed the face of the overnight package delivery market.

LO: Well, I have to ask: What do you think about Tim Cook’s leadership abilities?

JE: I have only met him once so I do not know him. But based on his background — IBM, etc. — he is a lot like me. I went from IBM, to Intel, to Apple. So I sort of understand that he is a very capable executive that is focused on executing the plan, which he has done. That will continue on.

LO: In iLeadership, you mention that to be successful you have to be a modern day pirate. What pirate-like skills does Jobs embody? 

JE: Pirates, like Steve, are always working in small teams, very open communication, there is a leader that sets the course, risk takers, not following someone else’s course. Hopefully getting great rewards for their effort and dedication to the ship. Trend setting for the user is the biggest goal. I see Tim Cook as a little more stable and less emotional than Steve but, like me, learned how to make sure the ship and crew are on course. And are still on Steve’s vision, which goes for many years.

LO: If you were Tim Cook, what would you change? 

JE: Absolutely nothing! However, I would be very concerned about creeping bureaucracy and politics under new leadership and keep an ever-lasting vigil to keep Apple the world’s largest “start up” company. This part is going to be one of the biggest challenges for Tim, as he has never started up a company.