Bob Moon: It’s hard to remember any CEO’s retirement creating the kinds of headlines, tweets and emotion that Steve Jobs’ announcement yesterday created. Jobs was charismatic; he is an icon of the digital age he helped create, and he built one of the most recognizable and most valuable companies on the planet. And in corporate America, Jobs’ influence and Apple’s influence have extended well beyond the companies he founded or worked with.
Marketplace’s Steve Henn joins us now from Silicon Valley, and Steve, it seems an appropriate time to maybe take stock of how much Jobs influenced the way business is done outside of Apple?
Steve Henn Well, you know, I think quite a bit, and in a couple of different ways. Jobs and Apple popularized ideas that were imitated widely, and sometimes in unlikely places. He also played a huge role personally in elevating the importance of design in technology, and that’s been imitated in hundreds of products, with varying degrees of success, and on thousands and thousands of websites. But finally, there’s a long tradition in Silicon Valley of very bright people in hugely successful companies quitting their jobs to start working on something entirely new. So one of the ways you can measure Jobs’ influence and Apple’s influence is to track where some of their former employees went.
Moon: OK, so give me an example of that.
Henn: Well, there are probably hundreds of examples, but one that jumps to mind is a guy named Dave Morin. He left Apple to join Facebook in the early days of that company. He’s a designer and helped put out some of Facebook’s more important products. And then he left Facebook more recently to start his own social networking company called Path. And stories like that are kind of typical, and pretty common.
But there are also some more surprising examples too — you know, outside of technology. JCPenney’s just hired a new CEO, and it ended up poaching Apple’s retail guru Ron Johnson away from the company. And then, in the automotive sector, Tesla — the electric car company — you know, it makes this very expensive Roadster. Well, it explicitly models itself on Apple, and people there talk about that all the time. Here’s Tesla’s V.P of communications, Ricardo Reyes.
Ricardo Reyes: We very much compare the Tesla Roadster to the early Mac. It is, and has been for us, the trailblazer for all the great products that are on their way — very much the strategy that Apple employed with the Mac. And then you saw whole new product lines based on that early technology.
Moon: OK, but a Roadster’s a bit pricier than a Mac, Steve, and a Mac is pricey enough.
Henn: Well yeah, in a sense, that’s kind of Reyes’ point. Macs were more expensive than other computers when they debuted, but they were widely thought to be better, people bought them, the people that bought them loved them, talked a lot about them, and were really trendsetters — early adopters. And eventually, Apple created a whole series of products were more affordable, culminating with the iPhone, which ended up in 100 million pockets. So what Tesla hopes to do — what it’s trying to do — is create its own automotive version of the iPhone. And it’s even gone so far as imitating Apple’s stores and trying to hire away Apple executives.
Moon: So you just let out a case for companies trying to capture Apple’s magic. Do you think that retaining their executives could be a problem now?
Henn: Yeah, absolutely. It might just be Tim Cook’s — the new CEO — biggest challenge going forward.
Moon: Marketplace’s Steve Henn in Silicon Valley. Thank you.
Henn: Sure thing.
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