Story: Steve Jobs, once one of the wonder boys who created the now-fading legend of Apple Computer, later became more of a liability than a boon to the company with his unusual – and some would say ineffective or even counterproductive – management practices. Forced out of Apple in 1985 by John Sculley (the former Pepsi CEO who, ironically, Jobs had hired into the same position at Apple), Jobs convinced a small key group of Apple employees to follow him away from the company to start a new silicon valley venture, NeXT. Apple promptly sued, which gave the outgoing group a notoriety within the industry – maybe these people, with the legendary Jobs at the wheel, were a serious threat to Apple, and maybe NeXT would be a contender to be dealt with. With this kind of rumormongering working to his advantage, and with his own celebrity status also lending him credibility, Jobs sought investors with tons of money – including Ross Perot – and prompty proceeded to waste their money on such luxuries as a $100,000 corporate logo, a custom-designed headquarters building and manufacturing plant, and high-speed data lines running not only to the office but to his own home as well. NeXT did eventually turn out a computer, years late, millions over budget in R&D (not to mention more unnecessary expenses like those listed above), and thousands of dollars over the budgets of their target consumer demographic.
Review: Boy, I’d love for someone to update this volume…but perhaps not its original author. Published in 1993, it doesn’t cover such later developments as Jobs’ re-emergence as a savior of Apple, his humbling acceptance of investment money into Apple from the coffers of one Bill Gates, and the recent release of the Macintosh PowerCube – bearing a striking resemblence to NeXT’s flop of a computer, which also flopped on the market.
“Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing” is a mixed bag from a journalistic point of view. A lot of information is presented here which would allow anyone to draw their own conclusions about Jobs’ marketing and spending strategies (or lack thereof), but it’s clear that Stross has it in for Jobs. The Apple co-founder’s bizarre personnel practices are the stuff of silicon valley legend, and are well-known outside of the industry as well. But here, Stross likens Jobs to any number of charismatic cult leaders countless times in the pages of his book. (Stross’ objectivity is also very suspect when one takes into account that a later book he wrote, which purported to tell the “real story of how Microsoft crushes the competition,” turned out to be a gushing valentine for Gates, Allen and company at Microsoft.)
For any new employer – or even a seasoned one, for that matter – to start up a new venture in the face of overwhelming odds takes a huge degree of charisma. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Jobs or anyone else – there has to be something more than the bi-weekly check stub to keep people at their desks. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve read enough about Steve Jobs from different sources to firmly believe that he’s capable of being an asshole. But this doesn’t mean he’s Jim Jones handing out Kool-Aid at Guyana. A snake oil merchant the man may be, but going beyond that analogy exposes the author’s lack of objectivity, rather than the author’s perception of his subject as insidious.
An updated edition, or a similar book on the same subject, would be wonderful – but hopefully it will be written by someone with less of a personal vendetta than Randall Stross.
Author: Randall E. Stross
Pages: 373 pages