“The dwarf sees farther than the giant, when he has the giant’s shoulder to mount on.”
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in The Friend (1828)
Every business executive and aspiring entrepreneur should read Steve Jobs, a biography by Walter Issacson. It provides a frank, unadulterated look at the career of the greatest business executive in our time. Consider this. Job’s founded Apple in 1976, which began as a 4-person operation in his father’s garage. By 2011, it became the world’s most valuable company by market capitalization. I agree with Isaacson’s contention that Jobs belongs right up there in the pantheon next to Ford and Edison.
There are many takeaways from this book. One of the “lessons learned” is that Jobs stood on the shoulders of others in order to achieve his phenomenal success. We all need mentors, and Steve Jobs needed them more than most. Given up for adoption by his biological parents, he spent much of his life looking for a father figure who he could emulate:
Personal Role Models
- Paul R. Jobs, his adoptive father, who enjoyed refurbishing and selling used cars after work. Steve spent hours by his father’s side, “eager to hangout with his dad.” Job’s dad was the first person to provide him with exposure to electronics. And the rest is history.
- Kobun Chino, a Soōtoō Zen master, who served as Steve Job’s spiritual guru. Job’s longtime teacher presided at Job’s wedding. For Jobs, Zen represented more than a philosophy of life; it also infused his thinking about design, which he felt ought to embrace beauty, minimalism and simplicity.
Business Role Models
- Arthur Rock, a venture capitalist and early Apple Board member, took Jobs under his wing. However, the relationship was about more than just business. “Arthur had been like a father to me,” said Jobs. Rock and his wife Toni hosted Jobs in Aspen and San Francisco. He also taught Jobs about opera.
- Mike Markkula, Jr., an angel investor and Board member of Apple, was the third employee of the company. Like Rock, he also became a father figure to Jobs. Markkula taught Jobs how to market, sell and package a product. Markkula oversaw Jobs growth and maturation. He served as Apple’s CEO from 1981 to 1983.
Ironically, Rock and Markkula eventually distanced themselves from Jobs. Here is the story. In 1983, Jobs recruited and hired John Sculley, President of PersiCo, to become Apple’s CEO. Two years later, Jobs had second thoughts. He and Sculley had a showdown before Apple’s Board of Directors. Both Rock and Markkula sided with Sculley. Years later, in recounting this event, Jobs broke down in tears. He felt betrayed by his business father-figures, much in the same way that he felt abandoned at birth by his biological father.
We all need shoulders to stand on, particularly during the formative phases of our careers. The poet John Donne said it best: “No man is an island.”
At the age of 16, I was inspired by Dr. Winters, a visiting minister who had a daytime job as a consultant to G.M. He was an outstanding speaker, and imparted numerous, fundamental life-lessons. He piqued my curiosity about business. Many years later, I worked with an external company consultant, A.K. His ideas brought about significant changes within the organization where I was employed. From him, I learned about the power of ideas, and how to present them well. As a result, my career direction changed from management to consulting.
What are your passions? Do you have a coach/mentor/boss/friend who you can learn from? Whose shoulders are you standing on in order to achieve the goals that you seek?