Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs – the most brilliant practioner of perfect timing….

Thousands of obits have already been written for Steve Jobs. There can be no doubt in anyone’s minds that Steve Jobs was one of the most dynamic, most innovative and most impactful business leaders of our times. Much has already been written about all this. My post today is on a small but different point – how Steve Jobs understood the meaning of perfect timing; and how even the Gods were forced to reward him with the perfect timing for his departure….

There is this concept that everyone knows of – departing on time. A little too early and one feels that one could have done a little more with one’s time. A little too late and one feels that one stayed on for too long. The right timing is what makes the real heroes stand out. Take Gandhiji for example. His timing couldn’t have been more perfect. He found himself at the right time in South Africa – where circumstances pitchforked him into the middle of the anti-colonial struggle there. He came back to India to find a near-vacuum in the struggle against the British. Through more than thirty years of his struggle in India, he managed to get the timing right for the Khilafat movement, the non-cooperation movement and eventually the Quit India movement. Not before he got the full independence for India did Gandhiji rest. Not till the last of the British left the Indian soil could anyone stop Gandhiji. Gandhiji’s departure from this planet was perfectly timed – just after he had delivered his goal to his countrymen. Not minute too soon. Not a minute too late. The gods conspired to confer greatness on the father of the nation.

Steve Job’s case is something similar. There could not possibly have been a better time for him to depart from this life.

Just look at the financial performance of his company. In the 3rd quarter of this fiscal (Apple fiscal ends September each year), Apple clocked revenues of $28.6 billion, a growth of 82% over the previous year. Mind you, these are not the results of an upstart, small company which would naturally record fast growth rates. Apple was already a monolith a year back – nearly the same size as other iconic companies like Pepsico and nearly double of Coca Cola Company Limited. Apple’s 3rd quarter profits stoo at $.7.3 billion, a growth of 125% over the same period last year. Such results are simply unheard of in the corporate sector – especially in America where revenue growths of 10% are considered excellent. Even Indian companies – with their much smaller bases – are unable to record such high rates of growths. These results are a tribute to the genius of Steve Jobs.

All through his life, Steve Jobs understood the meaning of timing. While othere management gurus could only talk about it, Steve Jobs practiced perfect timing. His first award winning product was no doubt the humble ipod in 2001, even though the Mac had been launched earlier. This simple product was able to put “1000 songs” into a mini frame that could easily be carried in a small wallet or even a shirt pocket. From 2001 to 2004, Apple milked the success of the ipod. As sales of the original ipod started declining, Apple introduced a new model of ipod with incessant regularity – starting with the ipod mini in Jan 2004, the ipod music+photo model in Oct 2004, the ipod shuffle in Jan 2005, the ipod nano in Sept 2005 and ipod video player in Oct 2005. But even as these design innovations perked sales up, Jobs knew that the ipod was going to go into decline. Pronto, in June 2007, the iphone was launched and the company revenues soared again. Jobs followed the same relentless spirit of innovation and perfect timing with the iphone launching a new model every year with the iphone 3G coming out in June 2008, the iphone-3 in June 2009 and the iphone-4 in June 2010. Just a few weeks back, the company unveiled the latest iphone – the iphone 4S.

With the launch of the iphone, Steve Jobs took Apple into a different orbit altogether. Under normal circumstances, one would have expected Jobs to milk the iphone for a few years before introducing the next big innovation. But maybe Jobs knew of what the future held for him. His sense of timing had to be perfect. And so, while the iphone sales were still soaring, the ipad was launched in April 2010 and the follow-up model, the ipad-2, was launched a year later in March this year.

It’s not surprising then that Apple has been recording revenue growths of the kind not seen before. Revenue growths were 33% in FY04, 68% in FY05, 39% in FY06, 27% in FY07, 53% in FY08, 14% in FY09 and 52% in FY10. And then of course, the way FY11 is going, Apple will beat its own past records by growing perhaps at more than 80% this year. In just 8 years, Apple’s turnover would increase from just $ 8 billion to perhaps more than $100 billion this year. The sense of timing is apparent again here, as the FY11 revenue growth numbers – the last year of Jobs’ life – are the highest ever in the company’s history. If this is not an example of great timing, what is?

Most people say that the world lost Jobs too early. There is a sense of remorse and sadness that this great innovator died so early. But just think about it – isn’t this the way Jobs himself would have wanted it? To go at the peak of his career. To go when everyone is asking: why? Just like in the case of Gandhiji, looks like the Gods have conspired in the case of Steve Jobs also.

The real truth is that Steve Jobs was brilliant in many things. He was a brilliant innovator; he was a brilliant marketer. But what is not known well enough is that he was a brilliant timer of events. It’s almost like he scripted his own death – timed beautifully with the best period of his company’s life….that’s the true genius of this brilliant man…..

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