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Steve Jobs, leadership and the cult of personality – An original Personal Brand


Apple may be losing its mojo… Already news organizations and pundits are trumpeting Apple’s slip into a measly second place behind Exxon, as the world’s most valuable publicly traded company. Apple is perhaps the coolest company around in terms of image – the products it sells are great, but the prices reflect not just simple tech value, but street cred too – Brand is mightily important in the success of Apple Inc.

Because, just as famous as its sleek designs and uber-cool appeal, is the now deceased Steve Jobs. He co-founded the company, but left and then returned after characteristically difficult relations with the board. Largely credited with the facilitation of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad (if not the creation), Jobs has a special place in geek history; a personality amongst tech pioneers, a king amongst nerds.

To make my point, sometime before he died, I walked into an Apple shop and asked when the new i-Pad was out, and was told that “Only Steve knows.” The company is not only gigantic; it’s a little bit self-obsessed! Maybe that is part of their secret?

So is that why Apple has lost its momentum? Tim Cook, his successor, is no doubt just as able a CEO, maybe even more so – he lacks the combative personality and reportedly vicious streak that ran through Jobs, and as far as we know is very well respected. He’s worked with both electronics and business all his life, and I’d say may be even more qualified than Jobs to run Apple. But Jobs was not just a CEO.

He was a one man marketing miracle!

Jobs is a great example of an effective communicator taking their hold upon a brand and taking their influence of it to the next level. It is clear that what surrounded Jobs was a cult of the personality. He honed, consciously at least to some degree, the staccato, non-rehearsed presentations, the insistence on presenting himself, and the use of trademarks like jeans and trainers and black roll necks. All this helped project a thought-out image, a unique personal brand. If you listen to him speak, he isn’t just a businessman hawking a product – he believes in that product with evangelical zeal; “this or that is the best product ever seen in the world, the best service you can comprehend”, in fact listening to him, I sometimes used to expect him to announce the iGrail, direct from God! USB compatible…

Without Jobs, Apple has had to change its brand focus and that is the trade off for relying on a big personality to front all of your products. How many non-business people can name Exxon’s CEO, or any FTSE or Dow Jones CEO? Jobs was an icon, but personality can only drive a company for a while, and it leaves a void when it is taken away. Leaders take note!

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