Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

Summary: Great tech companies don't let great salesmen become CEOs. Why? They don't know squat about product.

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TOPICS: Apple, CXO, Microsoft
151

Steve Jobs' parting shot against rivals is notable as he disses Steve Ballmer and a few others from the grave. But the broader message---once the sound bite are put in context---is that salesmen as CEO typically means the death of potentially great companies.

Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs just landed on Amazon's Kindle. The first move for me is to read some of those sound bites in context. Videos have run ahead of the release of Isaacson's book, but it always helps to have the broader picture.

60 Minutes: What did Steve Jobs say about his rivals?

First, Jobs gives Bill Gates some loaded praise. "I admire him for the company he built---it's impressive--and I enjoyed working with him. He's bright and actually has a good sense of humor. But Microsoft never had the humanities in its DNA. Even when they saw the Mac, they couldn't copy it well. They totally didn't get it," said Jobs.

That's the quote we know. The broader theme is that Microsoft is a company in trouble, according to Jobs. Why? Ballmer is running the company.

Enter Jobs' axiom that companies stagnate when sales people run the show.

"I have my own theory about why the decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The product starts valuing the great salesmen, because they're the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company."

Jobs noted John Akers at IBM was a great salesman, but didn't know squat about product and failed as a CEO. Xerox had the same progression. John Sculley, the CEO that tossed Jobs in Apple 1.0, was another salesman first executive. Ballmer is another product challenged executive, said Jobs. "I don't think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it," he said.

The Apple co-founder also had a few words for entrepreneurs. Too many entrepreneurs are launching startups but really only want to sell out. "They're unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company," said Jobs. Walt Disney did the real work. Intel did the real work. Hewlett and Packard did the real work---at least until recently.

Jobs was clearly thinking about his legacy and Apple's ability to move forward. Apple CEO Tim Cook isn't a salesman either so maybe the company is set. If anything the salesman axiom is worth noting as you evaluate technology companies.

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Topics: Apple, CXO, Microsoft

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  • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

    So a company goes down with salespeople as CEOs - is he being ironic or just believes he's been magically transformed from a salesman into something else.<br><br>Steve was sales and marketing. So any comment is an ironic reflection of his own position.

    When a tech hears a problem, h/she wants to know when and how it happened and how to fix it. A saleperson just tells you you're holding it wrong ;-)
    tonymcs@...
    • If you truly believe that, then I feel really sorry for you

      @tonymcs@... Anybody with a little intelligence can see that Jobs was a visionary and great at predicting needs and trends.

      Yes, he was good at marketing ... but marketing may sell a product the 1st week and only the product quality and features sell for the rest of the lifespan.
      wackoae
      • Agree, where you can find 'salesman' with over 300 patents?

        @wackoae
        DDERSSS
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @DeRSSS: Intellectual Ventures?
        Natanael_L
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @wackoae Visionary my ass. Maybe he was a visionary in marketing, but that's it. He wasn't a developer or a coder. He was a salesman. The man never invented or developed a damn thing.
        jhammackHTH
      • You are seriously in denial, are not you?

        @jhammackHTH: Jobs has over 330 patents on all sorts of things.

        But your religion does not allow you accept the reality, so you go to forms and claim blatant nonsense.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @DeRSSS [i]But your religion does not allow you accept the reality, so you go to forms and claim blatant nonsense.[/i]

        Pot.. meet kettle.
        Badgered
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @wackoae Jobs started Apple, he and Woz made the first product with their own hands. They wrote the software they designed and built the electronics. Steve was never as salesman but the designer and builder of his company from the ground up.
        When he left the company he didn't go sell for someone he built a new company with new hardware and new software. When he came back to Apple he brought back that new hardware and software and made the new Apple from it. Then he created the new products, maybe not so hands on as in the first place but he patented the iPod himself, not one of the engineers.
        The public saw him as a salesman and that is OK but he was never just a salesman but the tech giant that built the company 3 times from scratch.
        Bill Gates on his side did the same thing with Microsoft except he never did hardware, he used IBM for that, Bill did the software. But Bill didn't have the charisma that he needed to excite people about his products so replacing him with a salesman like Balmer sort of worked. No-one can replace Steve Jobs except maybe Woz, but then Woz is no charmer either.
        sysop-dr
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @wackoae Steve Jobs "approving" was visionary. You really think he came up with all of these ideas?
        keithfish
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @wackoae Don't believe the people who said Steve was a salesman, those of us who knew him know how much BS that is and the "religious" would never believe otherwise.

        The first time I met Steve (1986) I thought he was a salesman. Boy did he ever prove me wrong over the years. But since I based my opinion of him on him and not what I wanted to think about him, it was no problem for me to admit I was wrong.

        Steve was not a visionary. He was The visionary. THe Windows computer you use today, the Android Phone you hold all match Steve's vision of the future, articulated over the years to those of us smart enough and lucky enough to have seen the real Steve.

        RIP Steve.
        OracleOfReason
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @wackoae
        that's BS!
        Job$ was into marketing(read lies) and stealing other people's ideas or code and claiming it's his own. see http://techrights.org/2011/10/23/steve-jobs-exposed/
        The Linux Geek
      • Lets hold on a second here...

        @wackoae
        Both you and this article seem to be barking around both sides of the tree here.

        You said:"Jobs was a visionary and great at predicting needs and trends."

        This is the earmark of a super salesman. The kind of salesman that most companies wished they had. Its what happens to a salesman once they gain an understanding of people and product. Jobs himself said his practice was not to focus on the technology first and ask what could be done with it but instead to focus on the needs and wants of the people and to consider what kind of device was needed to fit the bill, and then to work up the technology to do the job. Its a salesman first approach where you are focused on the customers needs first and the tech exists merely to put the product on the shelves.

        Its not to say anything like Jobs was not up on tech, he certainly had to be. Its to say that he looked at products like a salesman would. Its Apples focus. They don't dwell at all on the details of the tech side of things, they dwell on how well the tech works. How intuitive the product is. They dwell on the "cool" factor and on how much you should want their product. These are all salesman centric ways of thinking.

        If you were selling a car working from a salesman's point of view you don't simply tell the customer about the size and horsepower of the engine, you don't focus on the name brand of the brake suppliers and details of their components. As a salesman you focus on how smooth the engine is, how it can make you go fast, you focus on how the brakes can make you stop on a dime. You spend lots of time talking about the interior and the driver conveniences and handy extras.

        Its similar in so many ways about the focus Jobs took when he introduced new products or talked about Apples existing products. In fact, if one looks carefully at Apple products there is often nothing so technologically incredible about them, at least after awhile.

        I own an iPhone and an iPod and while I think they are both great devices, its not as if they have some kind of technology in them that nobody else has. Its the features associated with with many Apple products along with the products ease of use and and general fit and feel that have been the benchmark by which all recent Apple products have sold themselves.

        Think about this, whatever the Apple enthusiasts say, Apple products are not cheap. Many would argue that Apple products are in many cases seen to be expensive. In this day and age the only way to sell products that are not seen as the budget version is through good salesmanship and in fact that is exactly what Steve Jobs did to a tee.

        Quality and features are the playground of the salesman. Not of the tech expert. For computers for example, processor speed is not a feature, and speaks nothing to quality, after all, a 2.66 CPU is not necessarily better or worse "quality" then a 3.0 processor. CPU speed is tech, quality is sales. Specs on a video card is tech, great picture is sales.

        So putting a person focused on sales in charge is not the death knell of a company so long as the product is good and the salesman knows what he is talking about. Just because Steve Jobs was a supersalesman doesn't mean salesman cant run a company. In fact they can do quite well. But they have to be better then a normal salesman. They have to really get whats going on in the customers head and serve that.
        Cayble
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @wackoae
        HA!! Product Quality and Lack of features in iProducts?? The interface and options are archaic!!! I have a self coined axiom, "People don't want BETTER, they want NEW" This is what iProducts have become. The marginal upgrades and non-tech savy nature of Sheeple the iPhone had to copy all of the features from Android and WP7 for their 4GS. What a joke, stop drinking the kool aid. iProducts have become entry level devices. I jumped shipped because of the lack of features and I am loving what Android is becoming. But please don't make it seem like Apple "invented " anything. They marketed the right product and marketed it well, but they didn't invent JACK!!! Well maybe the Casual Tablet market with iPAD, ok I give them that.
        drayphly
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @wackoae
        HA!! Product Quality and Lack of features in iProducts?? The interface and options are archaic!!! I have a self coined axiom, "People don't want BETTER, they want NEW" This is what iProducts have become. The marginal upgrades and non-tech savy nature of Sheeple the iPhone had to copy all of the features from Android and WP7 for their 4GS. What a joke, stop drinking the kool aid. iProducts have become entry level devices. I jumped shipped because of the lack of features and I am loving what Android is becoming. But please don't make it seem like Apple "invented " anything. They marketed the right product and marketed it well, but they didn't invent JACK!!! Well maybe the Casual Tablet market with iPAD, ok I give them that.
        drayphly
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @DeRSSS Southern Califorina Edison.
        clokverkorange
    • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

      @tonymcs@... <br>"Steve was sales and marketing."<br><br>This proves Microsoft's and their fanboys' continued ignorance of what made Apple so good. MS thought they'd get their own Steve who will also be only good at sales and marketing (because that's the only thing they thought Jobs was capable of). Clearly it didn't work because while Jobs was known for introducing products that would define the generation; Ballmer was known for laughing at them or having their funerals. The anti-visionary if anything.<br><br>Holding it wrong? Oh that explains why my keyboard disappears. Btw, the solution any hardware problem is to have strong customer support that is willing to replace the device if it came to that. Apple is very good at that; the best I would say. Consumers don't want a manual; they want their device fixed and to move on with their life.
      anono
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @anono
        Exactly. The familiar refrains from Windows zealots (and I'm a 95% Win user btw) was always "RDF! RDF! Apple is just marketing!".

        No, Apple did have great marketing - but their success recently has far, far more to do with actual products. The economies of scale and some bold manufacturing decisions allowed Apple to keep its refinement and attention to detail while at least being competitive on price with PC's.

        Jobs was a great salesman sure, but he was heavily involved in virtually every Apple product. The reason they are designed the way they are is due to his obsessiveness with detail and simplicity and the people he picked to run the divisions that share his outlook.

        He's right, Ballmer does *not* "get it". I have never heard him express one innovative idea on product design in my life.
        Nitz_Walsh
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @anono
        "Consumers don't want a manual; they want their device fixed and to move on with their life. "

        I'd like a manual for iCloud please.
        joevijr
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @anono I remember attending an event at our university(U WAshington) in the late 80's where Steve Jobs did a stellar job of Introducing the NEXT computer. He succeeded in selling the administration on its merits - they bought a whole bunch of them. He was a great salesman - the next did not have legs.
        cucullen@...
      • RE: Steve Jobs: When salespeople run tech giants it's over

        @anono Apple fanboys meet Microsoft fanboys. Silly boys together, most of whom don't get anything except their prejudices. When any of the fanboys achieve even a tiny fraction of what either Jobs or Gates achieved in their respective fields then maybe they might have something valid to say. <br>The fact of the matter is the the achievements of each within their industry, and the influence they had, don't cancel out the achievements of the other. <br>For anyone who was in business and who remembers how businesses collaborated or exchanged documents before the advent of Microsoft, they don't need to be told what massive changes and improvements in efficiency were wrought as a consequence of Bill Gates' vision. <br>Steve Jobs on the other hand had more influence on connectivity and mobility (although he clearly didn't invent the mobile phone), and on the reprographics industry (although he couldn't do that without the likes of Adobe, Quark etc.). What Steve Jobs was exceptionally good at was seeing the potential in other people's ideas. For example it's well known the the computer mouse and GUI weren't his ideas - rather he had the vision to see the applications Xerox Parc's research and ideas. But unfortunately the legend of Steve Jobs extends to the belief that he invented where in reality his talent was more for recognising potential and exploiting it. He was also a fine salesman.<br><br>What I do think is rather sad though is the way so many consumers of "computer toys" lionise Steve Jobs, quite unjustifiably, while vilifying Bill Gates. <br><br>Steve Jobs should be celebrated for what he did for digital imaging, Macintosh and the like, and general computing. <br>Also Jobs should be credited for seeing the potential in Pixar Animation Studios, then putting his money where his mouth is.<br><br>Instead he's famous and elevated to the status of Saint for giving the world lots of slim, beautiful mobile devices, of (by repute) dubious reliability, that although clearly useful in a business context for so many are nothing more than expensive geeky toys. Also ways in which individuals can ignore the world immediately around them. Obviously how people choose to use the products isn't the fault of Steve Jobs, but he did seem to go out of his way to create the ultimate "lifestyle" company.<br><br>On the other hand Bill Gates is vilified for being one of the chief drivers of the boom of the early '90s, providing tools for businesses to collaborate and be much more efficient than previously, and then for being a world class philanthropist and champion of the world poorest.<br><br>This kind of judgement says rather a lot about the priorities and sensibilities of many so-called geeks and technophiles.
        pvandck