The SEAL, the Race, and the CEO

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In its entire history, who was the safest CEO for Apple?

In other words, if you were a corporate recruiter hired by Apple’s board to find a chief executive, whom would hire?

I’ll answer this later, but first here’s why I’m asking.

Who Would You Recruit?

In response to yesterday’s post on Brunner vs. Greitens, someone asked me a similar question about Eric Greitens. The inquisitor seems to question my judgment for preferring Greitens over John Brunner. I’m sure he thought this was a killer question–one that would shatter my confidence in Greitens:

“If you were a corporate recruiter, would you hire Greitens to run a major corporation?”

The question is meaningless and misleading.

The answer is “no,” by the way. Corporate recruiters look for the safest candidate, not the best candidate. For a major corporation, recruiters begin with MBAs from a handful of business schools: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, etc. They also look at directors on other companies’ boards.

Eric Greitens isn’t an MBA. He’s a mere PhD and Rhodes Scholar and humanitarian and SEAL who might put people’s lives before profits. (God forbid.)

No corporate recruiter would have hired Steve Jobs to run Apple, Bill Gates to run Microsoft, or Mark Zuckerberg to run an ant farm. They’re all quirky and cocky. They’re all college dropouts. Not an MBA between them.

Apple’s Safest Hire Ever

Apple fired Steve Jobs, then hired the safest possible CEO–the CEO of Pepsi who had taken that company to the lead in soft drinks. Steve Scully had a remarkable track record at running Fortune 500 companies, and he understood consumer marketing. He was a safe a choice as safe can be, and every executive search firm in America slept well the night Scully’s selection was announced. Safe and sound.

Steve Scully was, hands down, the safest choice for Apple.

But Steve Scully wasn’t the best choice for Apple. He wasn’t even a good choice. Scully was a disaster who nearly put Apple out of business before the company had a chance to give us the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, iTunes, Keynote, Garage Band, iMovie. Safe but awful.

Steve Jobs was never the safe bet for Apple or any other company. Jobs was a wildcard and a maverick. He could be stubborn, mean, and insulting. He went weeks without bathing, ate nothing but apricots, and wore the same outfit every day.

But Steve Jobs saved Apple from bankruptcy. The board took him back after the safe Scully’s miserable performance. The Apple board re-hired a man they’d fired just a few years earlier.

Steve Jobs was the best choice for Apple because Steve Jobs was great on  a scale executive recruiters cannot fathom.

Under Jobs, Apple became the most valuable company in American history. And, still, no corporate recruiter would even consider him to run a major corporation. Jobs wasn’t the safest choice; he was the best choice.

Does Missouri Need Safe or Best?

Every candidate in the race for Missouri Governor is a safer choice than Eric Greitens. But I’m not willing to settle for safest in 2016: I want the best. Safe got us where we are. Safe was John McCain and Mitt Romney and Dave Spence and, yes, Jay Nixon.

I will never tell you that a Rhodes Scholar, champion boxer, Navy SEAL, charity founder, humanitarian, and Most Influential Person and Greatest Leader is a safe choice. People like Greitens are out to change things, and change is always risky. But “safe” can be disastrous.

As C.S. Lewis wrote of the great lion Alsan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

Then, of course, Susan and Lucy ask if this lion is safe — to which Beaver answers with his memorable line, “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. “

I’m not a corporate recruiter, and I’m not choosing a safe CEO for some company. I am a Missourian, and I expect inspirational greatness from our next governor. Or at least a fighting chance at greatness

In 2016, I’m voting for the best, and the best is Eric Greitens.

Conservatives Keep Losing Because They’re Reading The Wrong Books

Reading Time: 2 minutes

For the past four years. conservatives have worried more about being right while liberals worried about winning.

We all know how that worked out.

It doesn’t matter how right you are if you’re powerless.Right now we are.

Satisfied?

I didn’t think so.

thinking-strategically

After four years of 5,000 Leap and Constitution study groups, of Constitutional workshops, and rallies in the park, let’s make a vow to ourselves and to each other: We’re Done With Losing.

Here are the books I challenge you to read in the next six months. Hold study groups on these tomes. Get people excited about winning a damn race here and there.

I won’t review. I’ll give you the list. Amazon’s pretty good about turning shoppers into buyers.

READ THESE BOOKS

Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives

Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation

The Fourth Turning

The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns

The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care)

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Steve Jobs

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century

Thinking Strategically: The Competitive Edge in Business, Politics, and Everyday Life

Imagine: How Creativity Works

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

These books are not about the Constitution or the wages of socialism. You already know all you need to know about those things.

These books are about winning. If you don’t start winning, it won’t matter what you else you know or believe.

P.S. If you object to any of these titles because they’re by or about a liberal, you’re the problem.

The Bain of Newt’s Existence

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Truth is, not all companies, not all business ideas, can make it on their own. 

It’s easy to say that a good idea will automatically lead to a successful business. But it’s a lie.

Apple did not become Apple without investors.  Sure, there are some examples of businesses that flourished without financial help.  But not many. We’ll never know the wonderful ideas that died in their owner’s garage for lack of financing. 

Markkula offered to guarantee a line of credit of up to $250,000 in return for being made a one-third equity participant. Apple would incorporate, and he along with Jobs and Wozniak would each own 26% of the stock. The rest would be reserved to attract future investors. The three met in the cabana by Markkula’s swimming pool and sealed the deal. “I thought it was unlikely that Mike would ever see that $250,000 again, and I was impressed that he was willing to risk it,” Jobs recalled.

Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 77). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

A lot of people with ideas turn to government for investments. Why a business person with an idea would go to government for funding is obvious: poor scrutiny, below market interest rates, and (seemingly) unlimited funds. Ideas requiring big investments and heavy risks tend to seek out government help.  (See Aerotropolis.)

But the private sector has its own method of bringing great, but risky, ideas to market: venture capitalists and private equity. 

Venture capital and private equity firms pool their money together and invest in start-ups or small businesses seeking to grow, or salvage existing companies that suffer from bad management.  These firms employ experts and risk-takers who help push ideas over the top. 

Most importantly, private equity firms are like Bailey’s Building & Loan—they give us an alternative to the Mr. Potter of government.

bain-mitt

It’s absurd to criticize Bain Capital for its practice of salvaging failing businesses.  It’s absurd and silly to criticize Mitt Romney for laying off people from dying companies. Even some Democrats get this:

Should bad, poorly-managed companies be allowed to destroy value?  Should fast-growing, innovative businesses receive capital and support to accelerate their growth?  And should hard-working pensioners and retirees be allowed to invest their savings in an asset class that outperforms nearly every other one available?  Private equity has an important role and should be lauded, not lambasted.  The WSJ does a nice job of making this case here

I am a strong proponent of business considering all stakeholders, not just shareholders, as vital corporate interests.  I’ve written about Creating Shared Value in the past. I believe that mass layoffs shouldn’t happen simply to boost quarterly or annual numbers. 

When Bain Capital bought a business, the damage had already been done.  Bain didn’t buy thriving companies and gut them; it bought failing businesses and saved them.

Sometimes layoffs are necessary to avoid outright closure.  That’s why business leaders get paid big dollars—because we rely on them to save as many jobs as possible by making brilliant strategic decisions. 

While I have a lot of difference with Mitt Romney and with business executives who treat employees like pawns in their personal empowerment games, I believe that Romney’s actions at Bain were necessary and compassionate, not callous and self-serving.

Were it not for private equity firms like Bain and venture capitalists in general, ideas like the Apple II would die in Steve Jobs’s garage.  Entrepreneurs, inventors, and troubled companies would have nowhere to turn except government.

Newt Gingrich made a big mistake attacking Romney’s role in saving failing companies. In fact, his error was so big it might have sealed the nomination for Romney.

A Maniacal Focus for 2012

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m almost finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple co-founder and genius Steve Jobs.

Jobs’s life left insanely good lessons. Some lessons instruct us on how to do things. Others warn us of bad things to avoid.

One of the good things Steve Jobs taught us:  focus.  Maniacal focus on things that mattered, and a pathological aversion to distractions.

One example.  When Jobs returned to Apple after 10-year exile, he took stock of all the projects underway.  He found dozens of development and research efforts.  Most of them were, in his words, “shit.”

The product review revealed how unfocused Apple had become. The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers. “It was insanity,” Schiller recalled. “Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams.”

–Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Jobs killed 70 percent of those products.

Jobs was famously direct, blunt, rude. When people on an Apple product team heard Steve Jobs call their work “shit,” it stung. Not only that, the project cancellations put people’s jobs in jeopardy.

Finally, Jobs gave one of the insulted teams a great reason for his harsh assessment of their work.

“You are bright people,” he told one group. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time on such crappy products.”

–Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

To help the people focus, he drew a simple diagram on a whiteboard.

From dozens of projects, the new Apple would focus on only four, one for each quadrant in this simple drawing.

I know a lot of bright people who get lost in a sea of good ideas. We’re taught from birth to look for opportunities everywhere, to never tell others “no” when they ask us to pitch in and help.

But if you say “yes” to every good idea, you’ll never ship the great ones.

I don’t believe in New Years’ resolutions, but I do believe in using milestones as checkpoints. And the start of a new calendar year is as good checkpoint as any. So here’s my focus for 2012.

Spiritual: Say the Rosary every day.

Work: Create one insanely great new thing in 2012, all the way to market.

Civic: Through The After Party program, begin a new era of effective citizenship in St. Louis

Family:  Be present in the precious little time I spend at home

Four areas of life. One focus for each.

None of these is new. But reading the Jobs biography reminded me that it’s critically important to remain focused.  Yes, I’ve deviated from Jobs’s two-customer model. For good or ill, my life includes four customer types, each holding a warrantee that I must honor.