Hearing the news that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO took me back to the mid-nineties, when I was managing a large software project in London. Our company was a pretty big Apple customer, and it was decided that the newly installed CEO Gil Amelio would drop by, shake some hands and discuss Apple's future at our conference table.
Amelio is a smart and impressive man, and he's known for leading the team that developed the first commercial CCD sensors while working for Fairchild Semiconductor. He later became CEO of another chip manufacturer, National Semiconductor, where he was instrumental in restructuring the company and helping it to regain profitability. Amelio was there to give us confidence after Apple had been pretty bruised under John Sculley and Michael Spindler.
It wasn't an encouraging visit.
I remember Amelio going on and on about the past problems at Apple, and how he was going to fix them. Click here for an Apple video of 'the speech.' He had a long list of fixes, but what was lacking was a coherent, compelling vision. He was going to do 'something' about the clones, finally replace System 7, and settle down all the politics and warfare between Apple divisions.
I had some specific questions, but he dodged them. It wasn't convincing, and I wondered if Apple was going to pull itself out of what seemed a certain death spiral. After killing Copland and failing to make a deal for the BeOS, Amelio invested in NeXT and brought Steve Jobs back to Apple. At the end, Amelio got Apple back to making a small profit, after years of losing millions. It was a tiny victory, but certainly not a turn-around.
Amelio was finally ousted from Apple in July 1997 via a boardroom coup engineered by Jobs. The rest is history.
I never met Steve Jobs. But every day he has touched my life. When I check my mail, prepare a presentation, edit a photo, or answer my iPhone, it all happens because Steve had an idea of how I wanted to work. I don't know of any single company or products that have had an equal impact.
Gil Amelio had lots of plans, but plans are not a vision. Jobs laughs at market research, avoids focus groups, and trusts his gut when designing what customers want. That is, what they will want. Other companies try and copy Apple features and designs but usually come up short, because, like Amelio, they had lists instead of a dream.
Jobs is now on the next part of his journey through life, a journey we will all take, sooner or later. It's hard to define exactly the magic that Steve brings to Apple, but it is unique and it is successful. Smart as he was, Gil Amelio could not summon the magic, or as it turned out, much lasting enthusiasm.
Thank you to Gil Amelio for bringing Steve Jobs back. Thanks to Steve for bringing Apple back.