Jony Ive had “more operational power” at Apple than anyone besides Steve Jobs

Fri, Oct 21, 2011

Featured, News

Bits and pieces of Steve Jobs biography continue to trickle in and, man, this is going to occupy a lot of time for us next week. In one snippet relayed by the AP, Jobs says that Apple design guru Jony Ive, someone Jobs had previously referred to as his best friend, wielded the most power within the company aside from himself

He called Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, his “spiritual partner” at Apple. He told Isaacson that Ive had “more operation power” at Apple than anyone besides Jobs himself — that there’s no one at the company who can tell Ive what to do. That, says Jobs, is “the way I set it up.”

That’s vintage Jobs, putting ultimate power into the hands of the artists.

In one of Jobs’ more salient quotes, he explains why Apple fell on hard times in the mid-80s through the mid-90′s

People always ask me why did Apple really fail for those years, and it’s easy to blame it on certain people or personalities. Certainly, there was some of that. But there’s a far more insightful way to think about it. Apple had a monopoly on the graphical user interface for almost 10 years. That’s a long time. And how are monopolies lost? Think about it. Some very good product people invent some very good products, and the company achieves a monopoly.

But after that, the product people aren’t the ones that drive the company forward anymore. It’s the marketing guys or the ones who expand the business into Latin America or whatever. Because what’s the point of focusing on making the product even better when the only company you can take business from is yourself?

So a different group of people start to move up. And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy. John Akers at IBM is the consummate example. Then one day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they’re no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn’t.

Pointing out another example, Jobs also made reference to Microsoft being run by Steve Ballmer, yet another sales guy. By seemingly granting Jony Ive the ability to do whatever he wanted, Jobs was arguably brilliant in ensuring that Apple’s design talent, the soul of Apple’s products so to speak, wouldn’t get pushed around, become disillusioned and leave.

For Jobs, design was paramount.

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