Sadness is probably the most fortified of our emotions. So my point here is not to adjust it in anyone. Like many, I was somewhat surprised by how Steve Jobs’ passing moved me. Yet, considering this country’s current mood towards powerful CEO’s, I did find the general outpouring a little strange. I don’t say this to tear down Steve Jobs, disrespect those who knew him or even make a statement about business ethics. I’m just pointing out that while we’re occupying Wall Street, we’re also holding iPhone vigils.
One of Jobs’ first moves as CEO of Apple (the second time) was to abolish Apple’s charity programs. Even when he died, with a net worth of about $8 billion, he was still known for being tight-fisted. Then COO, now CEO, Tim Cook made over $59 million in 2010 and much of Apple’s senior management makes well over $10 million just in salary. Apple is the world’s richest company that doesn’t deal oil, and I don’t have to tell you that its products are slightly, shall we say, expensive. In any other industry, Apple and Jobs would be skewered for these practices.
To think of it another way, would we have shown such an outpouring for Jeff Bezos of Amazon or even Bill Gates. Obviously not. Bezos founded and navigated Amazon with the same steady ruthless vision everyone loved Jobs for. Gates has impacted – granted, arguably – the modern computing world as much as Jobs. Except image-wise, Gates sat in the front of the classroom, Jobs sat in the back.
In Steve Jobs’ own word’s, his “devices don’t change the world.” Yet Gates has set up one of the largest foundations in history whose stated goal is to do just that. And seems to be. Do we care less about Gates simply because his devices aren’t “cool” – and infuriate us sometimes?
Again, I’m not trying to adjust anyone’s sadness – just put it in perspective. Except for a couple of very touching stories, I honestly couldn’t put my finger on a pulse of the grief other than, “The guy who made my ridiculously slick phone/music player/computer just died.” If Jobs had ridden around the world tossing them out in town squares, this would make a little more sense. But you paid for that sucker. In fact, compared to their competitors, you really paid for that sucker. By most accounts, Jobs “wasn’t in it for the money” and by just eyeballing the guy, I believe that; he didn’t prance around on yachts or buy islands. But Apple shareholders sure were and the sole job of any CEO in America is to increase the company’s stock price. That’s why the board brought him back in. They knew he could do it. Call it vision, call it inspiration, call it dogged determination, Steve Jobs did that job better than any in history. But for all our capitalist leanings, that’s never been a reason to publicly mourn someone.
My first computer was a Apple IIGS. I practically had my first iPod installed in my eardrum. I’m going to get an iPhone 4S. I type this on a MacBook. I love Apple devices and I loved and was awe-struck by the way Jobs methodically changed computing. But yesterday, I finally had to stand back and ask myself whether if perhaps, almost unconsciously, the greatest product Steve Jobs ever marketed was himself.