Bob Schwartz

Tag: Steve Jobs

Familiar Faces and Founders Who Flee

George Zimmer
George Zimmer, founder of Men’s Wearhouse, has been terminated from the company he grew—on the day of its annual meeting.

He moved (was kicked upstairs) from CEO to the position of executive chairman in 2011, and he still has a 3.5% stake in the company. It is thought that he may have had some trouble letting go of the reins—a not unusual circumstance—and his firing is the result of the attendant conflicts.

Everyone with a television knows the bearded Zimmer, and has heard him promise that when you wear one of their suits, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” And with 1,239 stores in the Men’s Wearhouse family, many have seen one of its outlets.

There are shareholders to please, a different situation than with Zimmer’s first store in Houston forty years ago. Times are changing for suits, ironically the very fact that Zimmer highlights in the latest series of ads. So if a fresh take was called for, both in the business and the marketing, he may have been seen as standing in the way.

You know George Zimmer. But do you know John Sculley?

Everybody who studies or practices big business does, but few others any more. In 1983, Steve Jobs recruited Sculley from Pepsico to run Apple. Differences almost immediately began cropping up about exactly how Apple was going to reach the next level on its way to make money (Sculley) or make money by changing the world (Jobs). It is reported that Sculley wanted to emphasize the Apple II until the Macintosh was powerful enough to fulfill its promise. No doubt where Jobs stood; just watch the historic Macintosh “1984” ad that ran during the Super Bowl that year. Jobs was demoted in 1985 and quickly left the company. Sculley would leave Apple in 1993, after a few successes but mostly under a cloud. Jobs would, of course, return to Apple—demonstrating in the long run just how potent a founder’s combination of entrepreneurship, vision and hard-nosed business can be. Today, practically everybody on the planet knows Steve Jobs.

It’s sometimes true that founders get it, but can’t take it to the next level. It’s also sometimes true that those outsiders who think they can take it to the next level can’t because they don’t get it.

George Zimmer didn’t sell the world’s most popular and powerful digital devices, actually changing the world. He sold men’s suits. Getting that isn’t so very tough, so he may be expendable. On the other hand, he has proven that over the course of four very tumultuous decades, he did know how to sell those suits.

Sometimes founders really can’t be trusted to evolve themselves or their offerings for a changing market and world. But the possibility that they can shouldn’t summarily be dismissed, and neither perhaps should they. George Zimmer may not be back. But we know who he is, to the benefit of Men’s Wearhouse.

Do founders sometimes know what they’re doing? George Zimmer? Steve Jobs? John who?

The Most Important Document In History

The Magna Carta. The Declaration of Independence. The Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation. The number of essential documentary moments goes on and on, both here and globally, each one of them a significant next step in progress.

Twenty years ago, what may turn out to be the most important document in history (above) was issued. The website of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) explains the event:

On 30 April 1993 CERN published a statement that made World Wide Web (“W3”, or simply “the web”) technology available on a royalty-free basis. By making the software required to run a web server freely available, along with a basic browser and a library of code, the web was allowed to flourish.

British physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the web at CERN in 1989. The project, which Berners-Lee named “World Wide Web”, was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for information sharing between physicists in universities and institutes around the world.

Consider what the web would be like if it was a toll road and not a freeway. That was a possibility, had Berners-Lee and CERN decided to leverage and exploit the technology. But the web was born free and continues to resist chronic attempts to control and monopolize it.

One of the strangest ironies about the freedom of the web is that it was born on a NEXT computer. If you know digital history, you will recognize that NEXT was the company that Steve Jobs founded, in between his first stint at Apple, from which he was bizarrely let go, and his second stint, when he turned Apple into the richest technology company in the world.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not get as rich as Jobs. But he did get a knighthood, and recognition as an unsurpassed visionary, and the thanks of billions for shaping the world as few before or after did or ever will.

4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Who’s the boss?

The challenge of being a pop culture maven is that songs, movies and TV shows are regularly running around in your head, just waiting for a hook in the other real world. Then something happens and the connections light up, seemingly by themselves.

As soon as it was certain that the storm would hit the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen’s 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) became the involuntary soundtrack. It is from his career-making second album, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.

It is a sweet and melancholy song, more folk than rock. It seems to be about leaving a girl behind, but as Springsteen has explained, it is about leaving Asbury Park behind:

And me, I just got tired of hangin’ in them dusty arcades, bangin’ them pleasure machines
Chasin’ the factory girls underneath the boardwalk where they all promise to unsnap their jeans
And you know that tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag
I got on it last night and my shirt got caught
And they kept me spinning, babe, didn’t think I’d ever get off…

Did you hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do
For me this boardwalk life is through, babe
You ought to quit this scene too

All this (Sandy the storm, Sandy the girlfriend, the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen) prompted the question: Between events and people, who’s the boss?

The reflexive answer in the face of natural disasters like this is that events are in charge. As true as that may be, the parallel truth is that when people claim dominion, by building boardwalks and impossibly complex cities, people are in charge too.

Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog was one of the big inspirations in Steve Jobs’ life and career. In the 1969 issue of the Catalog, Brand stated the premise for his project to help people understand whole systems and master the tools to build and maintain them in an enlightened way. As we rebuild and reflect after Sandy, this is worth keeping in the mix:

We are as gods and might as well get good at it.

Think the Same: Apple as IBM, Android as Apple

Think Different.

That was the theme of Apple’s award-winning and successful ad campaign that ran from 1997 to 2002. Among other creative inspirations, the concept played off of the even more famous one-word IBM slogan “Think”, which had been in use since the 1920’s, when it was devised by IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

To make the point, Apple created a series of commercials and posters featuring those who had thought differently, including Albert Einstein.

The ad copy included this:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

Keep this in mind as thousands line up—camp out in tents on the street—to be one of the first to own an iPhone 5. Even many self-aware tech pundits have had to admit it: in the current state-of-the-art, the iPhone 5 is not all that cutting edge. But even knowing that, they too are craving it. Resistance is futile.

Apple began as the “other” personal computer. The IBM/Microsoft-based paradigm relentlessly rolled on and over the market. The hardware technology was almost universally licensed and adopted as a standard. Microsoft dominated the operating system, and software was developed for it. PCs were available at every price point and capability, and the market exploded.

Apple thought differently. From the beginning, and with only one brief foray into third-party licensing, Apple decided it would control everything. Quality and style could not be left to the vagaries of the market and to the poor judgment and penny-pinching ways of third party vendors. The result in personal computing was that while Apple won only a minority share of market, its products were not only different but (in the view of some) better, and adopted by creative and thought leaders.

The turning point came when Apple went mobile with the iPod. There had been portable music players for years, beginning with Sony’s revolutionary Walkman. By applying its computing model to this device, Apple did something just as revolutionary. Unlike having a minority position in computing, Apple took the lead in digital music players and never looked back. It not only owned the device, it owned the store for feeding the device. Apple was no longer the other; Apple was it.

Apple took the same tack as it always had when it entered the mobile phone market: superior technology plus superior style. And as with its earliest computers, it maintained complete ownership and control. This was more than just a matter of not sharing the rewards with third-parties. As a consumer, you could be sure that any application would run flawlessly with the Apple OS on an Apple device.

The iPhone is now a standard, one embraced by millions with a fanaticism that approaches a cult. Henry Ford’s famous message to car buyers of the original Model T was that you could have any color, as long as it was black. Steve Jobs may have never quoted this, but this is the experience of the iPhone buyer. And they are ecstatic at the lack of choice.

The iPhone is a standard, but not the standard. The other force in mobile phones is Android.

The metaphorical differences between Apple and Android are infinite. If Apple makes the trains run on time, Android has powerful trains still looking for the conductor, the schedules and even the track. If Apple is a tightly produced Broadway show, Android is a three-ring circus with the ringmaster on acid. If Apple is Singapore, Android is the Wild West.

And yet, Android is the dominant mobile platform in the world, and its lead over Apple is widening.

The Android system—if you can call it that—works like this. The operating system is developed and upgrades. Each version goes out to device makers, who adopt it to their own needs, including overlaying it with proprietary additions, and test its integrity and compatibility. These devices are then sent to carriers and service providers who add their own proprietary touches and do further testing. It is a lengthy process that is fraught with missteps, and explains why new versions and upgrades can take months to reach consumers.

Then there are the applications and developers. Quality and qualified developers face the challenge of making sure that their applications work properly on all permutations of Android versions and device-specific overlays. Developing for Apple iOS, on the other hand, is as simple as developing for Apple iOS: if it works, it will work for everyone. And anyone can and does develop for Android. With the exception of malicious apps kept out of the Android market, anything goes. There are thousands of Android apps that are dysfunctional, sometimes comically so.

For some of us who appreciate the excellent and forward-thinking devices in the Android world, even the weirdos and app pranksters are part of the charm. Yes, it can take far too long to get Android upgrades, and even then things may not work perfectly. But most of the time, the results are spectacular. If that is the price to pay for not enlisting in the Apple Army, we’ll pay it.

In the final analysis, that is the irony. Apple has become the world’s leading tech company the way IBM did in the 1950s and 1960s: by telling the world how computing should be done and making them accept it. IBM salesmen—in fact everyone in the company—was required to wear a uniform white shirt and tie. One of the legendary mantras of that period was recited by corporate purchasing agents: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

Android is an adventure. It might say of itself, as one corporate iconoclast used to:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.

Apple is now IBM. Android is now Apple. It doesn’t take a genius to see that.