Seven reasons why Steve Jobs was the ultimate boss

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How hard was it to work with Steve Jobs? We asked Ken Segall, the former creative director at Apple’s advertising agency, TBWA. Segall developed some of Apple’s pivotal ad campaigns when Jobs returned to the helm in 1997, after being driven away in 1985. Being the ‘ad guy’ for more than a decade gave Segall the rare power to contribute to the company’s direction. In fact, he put the ‘i’ in iMac. Here he shares seven things he observed while doing business with Steve Jobs.

Steve took risks in a crisis

‘Think Different’ was a historic moment in Apple advertising. Steve was back and the whole world was watching. Steve said, ‘Guys, this company is about to die and we need to do something.’ We developed the media plan and he said, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,’ but he didn’t really flinch. He felt that this was the time for Apple to be bold. We had no idea what was coming; he would only promise us that the designers and engineers were working on some fabulous stuff.

Simplicity was the key to his success

A lot of people look at Apple and think it was successful because it made beautifully designed products, but simplicity is embedded in everything that Apple does. Steve had a high degree of taste in his art and design. That’s the way he organised the company and designed the Apple stores. Watching Steve sit through a presentation was amusing because you could see him turn off once the charts and the graphs came out. He didn’t want to do business that way. ‘Tell me what’s on your mind, don’t try to bamboozle me with fancy presentations,’ he’d say.

His creative processes were loose

A lot of creative people refuse to do any work without a creative brief. They say, ‘You have to distil this to a single page and we won’t do any work until we have a great brief.’ The way Steve worked was contrary to the way a lot of creative people like to work. He would give us a casual briefing and say, ‘Here’s the product; here’s why it’s great. Now you guys go back and make some great work.’ It was loose that way.

He embraced the unexpected career turns

Technically Steve wasn’t booted out of Apple but he was made to quit. It was because he was forced out that he developed all these other skills. You couldn’t have written a better screenplay: man driven out of his own company, gets an education the hard way and uses that education to come back and change the world at the company that threw him out. You might say those experiences were humbling to Steve, but he was never really humble. He was always very intense.

'You couldn’t have written a better screenplay: man driven out of his own company, gets an education the hard way and uses that education to come back and change the world at the company that threw him out.'

Ken Segall,
Former Apple advertising creative director

Passionate arguments pleased him

If you build a relationship with people they accept you when you push. It’s important to be passionate and make it clear that you really believe in what you’re suggesting, you’re not just selling because it’s your job to sell something. The ‘i’ is a good example of that because Steve didn’t like it for two presentations. It was a perseverance thing. A passionate argument was always what Steve was looking for. He would test you. He would poke holes and if you could defend yourself it was possible to convince him.

He knew how to be competitive and playful

My gold standard is the Mac vs PC campaign. It was so imaginative. It was really aggressive in its competitive message, but it was done in such a fun way. Even if you were a PC person you might be defending your side. People were talking about it. To me that’s kind of what’s missing now. The iPhone is a mature product and they’re not really giving the phone a personality. That Apple personality that won so many customers should remain. It’s become very mainstream. I wish it still had the spirit of the underdog.

Cutting corners wasn’t an option

Doing the right thing really did guide Steve. He said, ‘I’m not going to change our values to sell a few more computers. We are Apple and this is what we believe.’ The other part of the right thing is a bit more day-to-day. He said, ‘We’re not going to skimp to save money and have our customers not have the best experience.’ He was absolutely uncompromising about anything we could do to create a better user experience.

Ken Segall is an Adjunct Professor in Marketing for the Deakin MBA.

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