In a brief statement on Wednesday, Apple announced that Steve Jobs, its legendary co-founder and product visionary, passed away at age 56. Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but he remained the public face of the company until he stepped down as CEO in late August, becoming chairman of Apple’s board.
Upon hearing the news, Knowledge at Wharton asked several Wharton faculty members for their comments on Jobs’s career, and his impact on technology and the business world.
Saikat Chaudhuri, professor of management: “Steve Jobs’s passing unquestionably leaves a great void in the world of technological innovation; he simply transformed the way people communicate, interact and collaborate, not to mention consume media and entertainment. He read the pulse of the market, and balanced the push-pull dynamic between new technologies and customer needs perfectly. He mastered the art and science of producing novel offerings by acting as an integrator of different internal and external technologies, capabilities and resources like very few.
“I only hope that in his last days, he was able to write down or convey all the ideas he had for the future, because his vision and penchant for creating game-changers and new product categories was unparalleled in recent times. His charisma and energy as a product champion to realize that vision will, of course, be sorely missed.”
David Hsu, professor of management: “I retrieved 116 million results this morning on a Google search of Steve Jobs and the word ‘visionary.’ Not only is Jobs revered, I think, for having original ideas of what the future should be like in computing and interacting with various media, but also because he did a remarkable job in implementing the details of making those visions a reality. All too often, leaders in business and government have one or the other (or neither) quality, and so I think Jobs stands out in this way.
“Steve Jobs to me also personified great entrepreneurial leadership characteristics: persistence and tenacity in the face of setbacks and challenges, high standards for both the people in his organizations and his products, and the charisma and work ethic to lead his organizations to its achievements.”
Peter Fader, director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative: “It’s so rare to see someone become such a success (and a cultural icon) without being the least bit wishy-washy. Even when he was misguided about certain things (e.g., hatred for buttons), he did it with great passion and conviction. You’ve got to admire someone who can stick to his principles and keep swimming against the tide – and then eventually make the tide turn in his direction purely through his vision and relentless persistence. That’s an extraordinary achievement, and only an extraordinary man could pull that off. Personally, I’m not a fan of Apple products, but I still see Steve Jobs as a role model for the way that he pursued his goals.”
Stephen J. Kobrin, publisher and executive director, Wharton Digital Press: “Jobs drove Apple to produce technologically sophisticated and beautifully designed products: Opening the box of the most basic Apple product is a pleasure. Perhaps more important, every product is user oriented — they just work. Setting up a wireless network with an Airport device is almost plug and play. An iPad is a powerful and complex computer, but a three year-old can pick one up and intuit how to play with it. Jobs also had the ability to see beyond the horizon; while the music companies were focused on jailing teenagers [for illegal downloads], he developed the business model for digital music.”
David Reibstein, professor of marketing: “Steve Jobs, more than anyone today, embodied the notion of thinking first about the customer, their experience and the user interface. He created a brand that is recognized around the world. While he was in [the] technology [field], he was not bounded by any one technology and was never focused on the technology above the customer.
“He was known as an innovator, which we normally think of in terms of technology. His focus was on innovation in the customer experience delivered via technology. He took on mountains (IBM and Microsoft) and was unafraid in doing so. He was a pioneer who was most willing to take risks. As a leader, he built an organization in his image. He will be missed.”
Kartik Hosanagar, professor of operations and information management: “The biggest lesson from observing Steve Jobs’s career is the value of having passion for what one does and the difference it can make. He talked about this passion in his now-famous talk at the Stanford convocation. This passion was visible in his resolve to hold on to the Apple CEO role despite the decline in his health over the past few years.
“The other big lesson is that of setting bold visions and taking risks to achieve them. Jobs pretty much reinvented Apple when he decided to build the iPod and position Apple squarely in the digital media business (as opposed to the PC business). Struggling companies like Yahoo could learn a lot from looking at Apple’s turnaround. In trying to turn Yahoo’s fortunes around, the leadership has not set any bold goals or taken big risks.
“All that said, we can celebrate his professional achievements over the next several decades. Today is a day when your thoughts mainly go out to the family.”