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Steve Jobs: A Tough Act to Follow

Steve Jobs: A Tough Act to Follow

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You couldn’t help but feel sorry for Phil Schiller, Apple’s vice president of marketing, when he stepped onstage to deliver the keynote at San Francisco’s MacWorld Expo a few weeks ago. Apple CEO and visionary leader Steven P. Jobs would not be making an appearance at this year's show, so the speech would have to be delivered by Phil. Stepping into the considerably large shoes of the CEO would be a tough act to follow.

If you’re lucky, you might have had the opportunity to work for one great leader in your lifetime. I’ve done better than most. I’ve worked for two. Walt Disney and Steve Jobs are more alike than you think. For the two men were not just leaders of their respective companies -- they were the company.

When news of Steve Jobs’ health began to leak to the media, I couldn’t help but remember how I felt back in 1966 when Walt’s health became an issue. Disney had already guided us through “The Jungle Book.” He had begun development on Epcot and Walt Disney World, and had dozens of ideas on the drawing board. I guess it was natural to minimize the concerns about Walt’s health at the time. He couldn’t be sick, we thought. How could we go on without him?


Much like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs insisted that his team
give no less than their best. And if this didn't sit well
with you, you'd best seek employment elsewhere

Phil Schiller did his best to deliver the goods at the Apple Keynote on Tuesday, and you’ve got to give the guy credit for that. Likewise I’ve gained a good deal more respect for my old boss, former Disney CEO Ron Miller. Ron, along with his wife, Diane now runs Silverado Vineyards in Napa. Late last year, we sat and talked about our old days at the studio, and what it must have been like to step into the leadership role at Walt Disney Studios. Can you even begin to imagine what it must have been like to follow Walt Disney? This is a task I would not wish on anybody.

While chatting with an Apple employee at MacWorld some years ago, a tall fellow in a black mock turtleneck shirt walked up to us. It was the boss, Steve Jobs. And quite frankly I had the same feeling of awe and intimidation whenever Walt Disney entered the room. Not that both men were scary -- although I’ll confess they sometimes were -- it’s just that you knew you were in the presence of someone truly special.

I had the privilege of observing Walt Disney in action over a ten-year period, from 1956 to 1966, and there’s a lot you can learn about an individual even watching from the sidelines. Likewise, I was lucky enough to be at Pixar Animation Studios when Jobs was boss. Known for his legendary tantrums and bull-headed behavior; Jobs had suddenly become a mature, mellow individual. Perhaps his years in “exile” had changed him, or maybe it was because he was now a father. Known for his excessive meddling, Steve was totally “hands off” at Pixar. And although he maintained a modest office at the company, I never saw him encroach on Pixar’s creative process. Unlike most high profile, power-obsessed executives; Steve was smart enough to leave his artists alone.


I drew this sketch of Steve Jobs after
arriving at Pixar Animation Studios in 1997

The Silicon Valley wonks and tech heads say Apple will do just fine should Steve Jobs not return to the company in June. They say that Apple is well positioned to thrive in the coming years because they’ve got millions in the bank, and new innovative products still in development. I agree that Apple is not going broke anytime soon, and the company will continue on with or without Steve Jobs. However, it won’t be the same company.

You see, leaders like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs come along once in a lifetime. It might surprise some to learn how much these two companies parallel each other. Both companies began with two guys tinkering in a garage, for heavens sake. Both companies had charismatic, visionary leaders who wanted things done the right way -- their way. Both companies shaped and profoundly influenced American popular culture, and created products eager customers continue to gobble up, because they practically sell themselves.
 
Apple will eventually change, I’m sad to say. Much the same way Disney’s change was inevitable once we no longer had Walt. All companies change because the leader either passes on, or simply decides to step down. What does remain is the legacy, and hopefully, that won’t be forgotten.
 

Late in 1998, Steve Jobs returned to Apple. And not long
thereafter, he gave us the iMac. The Walt Disney of technology
had returned to Apple and the magic had returned as well

Did you enjoy reading Floyd Norman's thoughts on Steve & Walt? Well, this is just one of the hundreds of tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at all the years that Mr. Norman has spent working in the entertainment industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • *sigh* Floyd, you can do better than that.

  • Great article, thanks!

  • There's a big difference between Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.  Disney actually created things himself.  Jobs is a great pitchman, perhaps the best salesman there has ever been.  But he doesn't actually *create* anything himself.  In story after story we see that when the Walt Disney company lost Walt, they not only lost their leader and the face of the company, they lost their best story man.  The one person who could tell them if a product was going right or going wrong.  

    Of course Jobs was "hands off" at Pixar.  It took him years to realize they weren't going anywhere as a hardware company.  He was lucky to have people working for him that could shoulder the burden of saving the company so he could reap the benefits.  He would have been crazy to interefere in things about which he knew nothing.

    I'm not trying to deny Jobs his due.  He has been very successful.  But that success has come on the backs of a lot of relatively nameless people who do all the work, while he gets all the glory.

  • Baloo... can you please elaborate on your point? "you can do better" is extremely vague and seemingly obnoxious

  • I thought this was supposed to be an article about both Jobs and Disney?

    Very little Disney...

  • First off, there was no time to elaborate after midnight on a Monday. However, let me say now that it simply means that Floyd has written better pieces than that one.

    Plus, I didn't see a good comparison between the two gentleman and lastly, there were not enough good anecdotes from Mr. Norman like we usually get.  Therefore, the piece was not very good IMHO.

  • The PowerMac 9500 was one of the most ill-conceived computer designs ever, and Apple actually put this monstrocity out on the market to the ruination of its customers.  How much did Jobs know and when did he know it?

  • Great article as always - no wonder you're a Disney Legend.

  • I agree with ShakeMan73 200%.

    Those of us who don't belong to the Apple/Steve Jobs cult can see through their "stuff".

    The success of Pixar is John Lasseter and Ed Catmull's and the other talented artists working at Pixar and their's alone! Steve Jobs had little to nothing to do with it.

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