Streve Jobs, the book by Walter Isaacson, is of course about Steve Jobs, the person, who died last year at age 56 after a long bout with pancreatic cancer. He was the founder, along with his partner Steve Wozniak, of Apple Computer which is today the largest corporation on the planet in terms of market capitalization. Jobs and Wozniak were both college dropouts who had a passion for technology. After having developed and sold a "blue box" which allowed people to make phone calls anywhere in the world at no charge, they were among the first to develop personal computers after the Altair came out in 1976. Wozniak was the technical genius who developed the circuit boards and Jobs was the visionary who thought of himself as being at the "intersection of technology and the humanities."
Jobs was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs shortly after his birth in 1955. Later in life he found his birth mother, and found out the fact that he had a full sister, Mona Simpson, with whom he developed a relationship. Although he had information about his birth father, Jobs decided that he never wanted to meet him, but had actually unknowingly shaken hands with him at a restaurant in Cupertino that his father had managed.
Apple Computer was started officially in 1977 based on the Apple II designed by Wozniak. Three years later they went public and Jobs went from having a net worth of zero to having a net worth of $256 million overnight. After touring the Xerox PARC plant, Jobs got the idea for the graphical user interface and the mouse which were embodied in the first Macintosh and constituted a truly revolutionary development. Even though the Mac never garnered the market share of the IBM compatible PCs, it was a product which expressed Jobs passion for great design principles that extended to not only the case of the computer and the angles of its bevels but also to the packaging. Bill Gates's criticism of Jobs was that he couldn't code, and Jobs criticised Gates as having ripped off the Windows interface from the Macintosh for Microsoft. Despite the rivalry, Gates continued to provide application software for the Macintosh.
Jobs was probably one of the few CEOs of a major corporation that maintained throughout his life that one of his three or four greatest experiences was dropping LSD. Jobs didn't suffer fools gladly and didn't mind calling them bozos and assholes to their faces. His "reality distortion field" was responsible for his being able to convince anybody of anything and winning in most negotiations including getting the music industry to disaggregate record albums and sell individual songs for 99 cents which were to be purchased by consumers from Apple's iTunes store. He didn't endear himself to people by calling their ideas the "biggest piece of shit I've ever seen", but could turn around and be irresistably charming when it suited his purposes. Having started with nothing his passion was primarily to create excellent products rather than to make huge profits. This caused both successes and failures. His behavior at times was so erratic that Apple hired John Sculley, the CEO of Pepsi-Cola, to be CEO at Apple in 1983 just prior to the introduction of the Macintosh which revolutionized personal computing. His main purpose was to rein in Jobs and to impart some sense of order at Apple. It wasn't long before they were at odds with each other, and Jobs ended up being forced to leave Apple, the company he founded, in 1985. Wozniak had long since gone his separate way.
After Jobs left Apple he started NeXT Computer with his own money, a venture that never really got off the ground thanks in part to Jobs perfectionism. Apple did not prosper either under Sculley continually losing market share to Microsoft. Jobs wanted complete control over every aspect of his products from the ground up including both hardware and software, and he wouldn't license the software to clone makers as Microsoft did. The Microsoft strategy was the more successful as it turned out that the market would rather have cheaper, clunky computers than more elegantly designed expensive ones.
While at NeXT, Jobs had the opporetunity to buy Pixar, a small struggling digital animation firm. He was able to cut a deal with Disney to produce Toy Story and took Pixar public right after Toy Story became a huge commercial success. All of a sudden Jobs was back in action. Both NeXT and Pixar might have been failures, but Jobs passion for excellent products resulted in Pixar's huge success. After Apple's slide into decreasing market share for the Macintosh, Sculley was eventually replaced as CEO in 1993. In 1996 Jobs came back to Apple at the Board's request initially as an unpaid consultant. Eventually, he again took full control as CEO. He was able to turn the company around with the iMac whose case he and his design team spent an enormous amount of time on getting just right. Design considerations were primary and the hardware guys had to cram their electronics into the unorthodox case in the best way they could.
Jobs managed to get Apple to buy NeXT thus ending that dead end. Meanwhile, he was CEO at both Apple and Pixar, a fact that he felt contributed to his health problems. Eventually, Pixar was sold to Disney, and a lot of Jobs' weallth came from Pixar rather than Apple. In fact when Apple gave him stock options, they ended up being worthless due to the depreciation of the stock value. During this time Jobs was working as CEO of Apple for $1 a year, something that appealed to his countercultural identity and his professed lack of concern about money.
Jobs' greatest success came in the 2000s, after he was diagnosed with cancer, with the introduction of the iPod, the iTunes store, the iPhone and the iPad. He took Apple from a computer manufacturer to a company that revolutionized the distribution of music, created the smartphone and brought other greatly popular consumer devices to market. Finally, Jobs passion for design and total control over product development paid huge dividends in ways that other companies couldn't match.
Jobs lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2011; Tim Cook took over the CEO position at Apple. This article in the New York Times about Apple tells the sad tale about how most of Apple's production is now done overseas. At one time Jobs built factories in the US which he designed himself right down to the color of white paint on the walls and the $20,000. office chairs. Those factories have long since gone to China. As the article points out, it is not only more profitable for Apple to contract out its production to Foxconn in China but it is also more expedient as Foxconn can provide workers who can be rousted out of their dormitory beds in the middle of the night to make last minute changes in products and work incredible numbers of hours to meet product launch dates.
Foxconn's penchant for working its workers to their limits has drawn unfavorable publicity like the following:
In 2010, there were 14 suicides and 18 attempts at Foxconn’s complex. In response, Foxconn raised salaries by one-third, from 900 yuan a month to 1,200 yuan, and set up an in-house counseling service -- complete with music therapy rooms. Buddhist monks were brought in to cleanse the factory of evil spirits. Most famously the company put up nets around workers’ dormitories, and created a somewhat dubious “no suicide” contract all employees were required to sign...
While Apple CEO Tim Cook will make $378 million this year, Foxconn workers are forced to live in squalid dormitories as reported by ThinkProgress:
Apple CEO Tim Cook will receive a $378 million pay package this year, consisting of a $900,000 base salary and $376.2 million in stock options. This is a six-fold increase over his compensation last year, and could very well make Cook 2011′s highest paid CEO.
At the same time that the company is handing such a huge package to its chief executive, though, the workers in China who make Apple’s most well-known products continue to toil in tough conditions. Last year, a report from Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), a Hong Kong-based advocacy and research group found that the Chinese workers at the Taiwanese-based company FoxConn — who assemble the iPad, as well as other high tech gadgets for Apple, HP, Microsoft and others — were forced to work loads of overtime, stand on their feet 14 hours a day, and live packed together in squalid dormitories.
Such is the result of globalization. Consumers in the US and other advanced countries snatch up fancy tech gadgets which are produced by exploited workers in China while the richest 1% continue to receive huge paychecks. American workers are left out of the loop entirely. Jobs and his original Macintosh development team were willing to work 90 hour weeks to produce "insanely great" products. But now this work ethic or rather overwork ethic is being forced on Chinese workers who won't reap the financial rewards that Jobs and his original team reaped for their overwork efforts. Is this the real legacy of Steve Jobs and American entrepreneurialism?