Just Call Steve!
With the current debacle involving the US car maker CEOs grovelling to the government for money to bail out their struggling companies it was inevitable that there would be a surge of “what if [insert technology leader here] was in charge” discussion on the Internet. This time it seems to be “what if Steve Jobs was in charge of GM”.
The comments are mostly facetious but they do reveal a lot about what people think of Apple. They tend to fall into two broad categories: Apple as a producer of cool, innovative products; and Apple has a company with tight control and inflexible practices. For example: “Acceleration and braking would be handled with a single pedal.” Isn’t that a great idea? A simple, intuitive, Apple idea. But there’s also this: “You could only use Apple brand gasoline from Apple brand gas stations.” A restricted choice, but what if the Apple brand gasoline was much better than the usual stuff?
I’m not suggesting Steve Jobs should be in charge of GM or that, if he was, GM would be any better off, but the idea does have a certain element of validity in it. I guess the main reason the US car makers are doing badly is that they are lacking in innovation. They are more like Microsoft than Apple: producing the same old thing that’s worked in the past while their competitors are moving ahead. I know the US manufacturers do introduce new stuff but they always seem to be behind the Japanese and European companies when they do it. By the time they have caught up with one technology the competition has already moved ahead again.
The Microsoft approach has worked well for Microsoft so far, but there are signs that it might not be so successful in the future. The same applied to the US car makers in the early days – until the others overtook them and they found they couldn’t compete.
Conventional management almost drove Apple into destruction until Steve Jobs returned and rescued the company. Maybe a similar style of management is necessary to rescue the US car makers – it certainly doesn’t look like more of the same is going to work.
When the senior management visited for the discussions on the bail out deal they arrived in their private jets. We’ve had similar issues here in New Zealand where management of a finance company on the verge of bankruptcy spend time in a Fijian resort just before visiting the shareholders to discuss how the company could survive, and the board of a power company voted themselves a big increase at the same time as they increased prices to cover extra costs.
The fact is that most senior management really isn’t that great. I see very little evidence to indicate that our business leaders are innovative, hard working, or principled. Actually it seems to me that the opposite attributes are generally more likely to lead to a role in senior management. This doesn’t apply to them all, of course, but I think it might apply to the majority!