A business genius who connected with people

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

I have a sticker in my study that says “Steve Jobs for President”. I can’t remember who gave it to me, or when. But, the fact that someone produced and widely distributed it, does underline the extraordinary way that Steve Jobs connected with ‘the people’.

Following his death in October, it was quite amazing to see people leaving flowers, mementoes and messages of condolence outside the Apple Store in Fifth Avenue, New York and other stores around the world.

Steve Jobs

The genuine sadness at his untimely death was touching. It’s the sort of reaction you expect to see for pop stars, or actors. Somehow, Steve Jobs had connected with ordinary people in a way that most business people fail to do.

His death has robbed the world of a great innovator who was reportedly still working on Apple’s ‘next big thing’ the day before he died.

It may seem so obvious to us now, with the benefit of hindsight, but how many of us would have seen the logic in a computer manufacturer producing a mobile device for playing music? That, in those days, was the domain of Sony with their Walkman.

It is a measure of how completely the iPod changed the way we enjoy music, that it seems to have been around a lot longer than just ten years.

Looking back, now, we can now see the logic that was not obvious to many of us at the time. Steve Jobs and Apple ‘joined the dots’ and recognised the business connection of syncing music with a computer and selling music for download from an online store.

Wind back a few years before the iPod launch and – so unlikely had it appeared that Apple Computers would ever become a player in the music industry – that there was the the infamous agreement with the Beatles Apple Corps. It was agreed that each Apple would stick to its own business – Apple in computers and Apple Corps in music.

IoD Scotland 1111
A version of this blog appears in the Winter 2011/12 edition of IoD Scotland magazine

The final act, in the wrangles that followed, was the eventual appearance of the Beatles music on iTunes at the end of last year.

Leading on from the iPod success, history repeated itself in 2007, when Apple made another landmark diversification move. Yet again, as the rumours began to fly, I struggled to see why Apple would want to enter the smartphone business.

it just didn’t seem logical. Once again, hindsight is a marvellous thing, and the iPhone now appears such a logical extension to a digital lifestyle

Next came the iPad and again there were those who predicted Steve Jobs and Apple would fall flat on their faces, chasing a market that was ill-defined and that many could not even see. Now others are now falling over themselves in their rush to catch up.

At the launch of iPad 2, Steve Jobs underlined the success of this diversification when he announced that it was the new digital products that now made up the bulk of Apple’s business, not the computers. Under Steve Jobs’ leadership Apple had, in many ways, been turned on its head.

The lessons for business are obvious. Look for opportunities that will build on your core business and grow it in new ways. Then, of course, you need to pay almost obsessive attention to developing the brand through outstanding design, brilliant marketing and top flight PR.

The scale of what had been achieved became obvious in August this year, when Apple pipped Exxon to become the world’s most valuable company with a valuation of $337 billion. Not bad for a computer company that some were gleefully writing out of computer history in the 1990s.

Apart from that, it would be nice to think Steve Jobs’ other legacy would be to have inspired a generation to emulate his business success.
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