Not Impressed with Steve Jobs’ Latest

Steve Jobs, in a much anticipated press conference last
Friday, attempted to put to rest any sort of proletariat uprising over the
antenna problems related to the iPhone 4. Some felt that he did a great
job in dealing with the issues
while others were not
so willing to give him credit
for his efforts.  Shareholders and investors expected him to
address their concerns that a crisis may be underfoot with the quality of the
new product. Consumers expected him to address their concerns of being caught
up in the hype of a product that was not delivering on its promises.

In the end, Jobs chose his audience which was the
stakeholders and investors. And, to be honest, that’s more or less the role of
the CEO of a large publicly held company like Apple.  In my opinion, this is “Steve Jobs as Manager”
and he did that job pretty well. However, “Steve Jobs as Leader” was not so
impressive.

What should Steve Jobs as Leader have done? Well for one
thing, he should have framed the problem as an Apple problem which is exactly
what it was. Consumer
Reports refused to recommend
the iPhone 4, not all other handsets.
Customers who had problems and those that were afraid that they would have
problems, were interested in knowing that Apple took ownership.  Jobs ill-advised tirade about each of his
competitors and their signal problems came off a little like the guy who gets a
ticket for speeding when he is surrounded by other speeders. The comparison
really doesn’t matter…Apple uber-promoted the iPhone 4 and in the end, it didn’t
meet expectations.

IStock_000008715365XSmall  You could argue that Apple DID take ownership by fixing the
problem with free “bumpers.”  This would
have been a fairly brilliant example of a leader doing what it takes to make
things right if it had not been for the whining that went along with it. By
positioning the issue as (a) a media created issue and (b) an issue facing all
cell phone makers, Jobs seemed disingenuous making a big deal out of the fix. “This
isn’t really a problem but since you think it is, here’s a solution.” The cost
of this fix, by the way, will have a relatively negligible effect on the Apple
bottom line. When you have billions in cash stashed away, this solution doesn’t
hurt much.

The final indication that he was managing and not leading
was in his choice to coin the phrase “Antennagate.” It’s clear that some
communication guru in Apple came up with this idea as a way to diminish the
issue of the antenna and make it appear as if it was a conspiracy without
having to come right out and say so. In other words, the media was out to get
him. This of course is the same media that made so much of the iPhone 4 that
thousands of people stood in line all night to get them as soon as they hit the
shelves.

More importantly, by minimizing the issue with a derisive
term such as Antennagate, Jobs essentially took what many consumers felt was a
major issue or could be a major issue for them in the future and mocked them
with the problem. While it might make investors feel it is no big deal, it can
be enormously patronizing to customers who want to get their expensive phone
fixed.

It is clear that Steve Jobs is a brilliant man. He always has been and his impact on our world can barely be over-stated. But neither can his hubris. Customers may eventually tire of the condescending attitude of Jobs and Apple as a whole. And if that happens, the investors will wish they had a leader as well as a manager in charge.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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