4 min read

Growth Engine behind Apple's Spectacular Rise

Growth Engine behind Apple's Spectacular Rise
Photo by Laurenz Heymann / Unsplash

I've been obsessed with Steve Jobs, the Innovator &  Steve Jobs, the Marketer for a better part of 10 months now. So, like every fanboy, I picked up his biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, hoping to connect with the man himself. While certainly being awe-stuck with Steve's genius, the book unraveled some amazing insights into Apple's remarkable journey too.

In the second half, post Jobs' return as CEO, Apple showed an unreal growth curve: From '90 days to insolvency' in 1997 to 'Most Valuable Tech company' in 2010.

How did Apple do that?

Let's go back to the archives...

December 1996: Apple had registered it's worst ever financial quarter and Gil Amelio, CEO of Apple was facing a lot of heat from all over the country. Apple's market share had fallen to 4% from the highs of ~20% in the late 1980s. All hopes were pinned on a new opearating system, which Gil painfully realised would neither solve their technology problems, nor be ready by next year.

Steve Jobs, after a dramatic ouster from his own company in 1985, was then the CEO of NeXT, a competitor firm that was building computers for universities & academic usecases.

Now Apple needed a partner, one that could make a stable operating system and could be integrated into it's ecosystem. Unsurprisingly, Gil Amelio had to turn to NeXT to provide a solution & save the company!

Thus, in a historic turn of events, Apple bought NeXT for a deal of $400 Million and Steve Jobs returned to his company after a period of almost 12 years. By September 1997, he was back as the iCEO at Apple.

In ~10 years, Apple would go on to Revolutionize the Mobile, Retail, Music, Tablets & Content Creation industries...

What did Steve Jobs do to achieve this spectacular turnaround?

Laser-Sharp Focus: Steve Jobs' 1st Superpower

Into the Apple Boardroom...

Steve & the lead executives started with a product line review. Apple had a dozen versions of the Macintosh computer, each with a different confusing number, ranging from 1400 to 9600. Internal bureaucratic momentum & external pressure for retailers meant that Apple had become extremely unfocussed with its product line.

After 3 weeks of going over a range of products & specifications, Jobs had enough. He stopped a meeting midway and in his signature style, grabbed a marker & took charge of the whiteboard.

"Here's what we need to do!"

Steve scrapped every single product on the line and aligned the engineers & managers towards only 4 'great' products. Product 1, first to be developed in after the strategic change, was termed the iMac.

"Gil had been urging us to approve more and more products every meeting. He kept saying we need more products. Steve came in and said we needed fewer. He drew a matrix with four quadrants and said that this was where we should focus" - Ed Woolard, Chair of Apple Board

The ability to 'Focus' saved Apple from the brink of insolvency. iMac became the fastest selling computer in Apple's history & after 2 years of staggering losses, Apple registered a profitable fiscal year earning $309 Million in 1998.

But is that it? Is just a clear focus enough? I'm afraid not!

Tireless Intensity: Steve Jobs' 2nd Superpower

Steve Jobs' leadership style has been widely debated across the world. Showing extreme binary attitudes towards colleagues, throwing tantrums, publicly insulting colleagues are some of the well known darker sides to his personality.

What's Not debated though is the Effectiveness of his leadership. Entire Board Commitee of Apple admittedly believed that 'Only Steve' could bring the company back from it's precarious position in 1997!

Why Only Steve?

The reason was Resolute & Tireless Intensity towards the goal.

While any other CEO would have ignored the minute details that go into building machines as complex as computers, Steve spent hours and hours with his team, working cross functionally on every single detail to reach Perfection!

Whether it's the shade of blue, or the size of 'Hello world', or the lights in the presentation hall, Steve was Never Satisfied until he got it exactly right!

This Intensity coupled with a Strong Work Ethic inspired his entire team to time and again create products that were a magnitude improvement over the existing market.

Focus & Intensity: The Perfect Engine for Growth

Post Steve Jobs' return in 1997, Apple found the perfect engine for growth. The entire company on the back of Steve's vision would focus its bet on one product and execute with unmacthed intensity till they achieved their vision.

Starting from the iMac, Apple came up with a series of products that redefined the entire modern digital era that we live in.

  1. iPod & iTunes: Redefined the Music industry
  2. iPhone: First Smartphone that worked!
  3. App Store: Kick Started the content creation industry
  4. iPad: Launched the tablet computing industry
  5. Apple Stores: Conceptualized Retail stores as a way of branding
  6. iCloud: All our devices sync seamlessly!

And One more thing! It's not just Apple!

Luckily the Engine for Growth remains the same. Every fast growing company figures out a unique way to run the engine moulded to the style of CEO & Leadership.

🎯 Google received its Growth Engine through OKRs: Focus & Intensity in Action in 1999. Check out this video to know more!
💡 Jeff Bezos found inspiration from Wallmart's Strategy to create Amazon's Growth Engine based on very similar principles of Focus & Intensity.

Both aspects of Focus & Intensity together create the perfect symbiosis to propel organisations forward to exponential results.

It's extremely tough to get both of them right. No company has been able to perfect the engine right from the word go. But once you do, Sky is the limit!

Hey again, this is Aditya! Thank you for reading this!

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I am in this journey to explore and build on my obsession with Travel, Innovation, Marketing & Execution. I invite you to join me in this journey!