In late August, Steve Jobs made headlines around the world when he announced his resignation as Apple’s CEO due to health reasons. It was a great opportunity for everyone to step back and take a longer look at his lifetime of fantastic achievement in the business of information technology and consumer electronics. From 1977 Apple II, one of the first personal computers in history, to breaking new ground in 2010 with iPad, a tablet computer, Jobs’ contribution has been revolutionary. He is often said to play in a league of his own, which is true in many ways, but the fact is that all successful businesses based on innovation need to have their own visionary Steve Jobs. He also made history as a passionate keynote speaker and his performance at a commencement speech at Stanford remains a classic example of how to talk to to make an impact.
High-tech companies, from software development houses to hardware manufacturers, can only do well if there is somebody with a vision at the top. This is not to say that the rest of the structure is not important. But it is only when the bigger picture is right when the effort of every single employee can add up to a powerful effect. Few have this instinct for strategic thinking in place and it is always a great pleasure to work for ventures where it is present. Commenting on Steve Jobs’ stepping down, a former Apple insider said: “He’s just got a different operating system”. This quote nicely sums up this elusive quality that great leaders in innovative companies need to have to be successful. This is also a quality that is needed to become a great keynote speaker who talks to be heard.
It is not difficult to find other charismatic leaders in this field. Jack Tramiel of Commodore International wrote history not only by popularizing home computers, but also by executing a hard-edged, aggressive deal-making style that allowed him to stay in business for over three decades despite terrible competition. Microsoft’s Bill Gates is another big-picture visionary that pursued the potential of software at the expense of hardware. He managed to built one of the most powerful companies in the world within several years. Stanford doctoral students Larry Page and Sergey Brin have achieved the status of high-tech superstars thanks to their information organization systems and cracking the code of online advertising. The youngest business prodigy is probably Mark Zuckerberg with his never-ending effort to turn the Internet into a social network.
These names have already become part of popular culture, but there are also hundreds of low-key visionaries whose ideas, knowledge and character drive thousands of smaller high-tech companies and startups. We might not know them from the front pages of business magazines, but their passion and determination in developing innovative solutions have exactly the same effect as what Steve Jobs does at Apple. They revolutionize and improve the way we communicate, learn, do business or spend free time.