Bloomberg News

Jobs Told Google’s Page to Cut Bloat to Avoid Becoming Microsoft

October 22, 2011

Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs urged Google Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Page to sharpen the company’s focus and cut products that put it at risk of becoming like Microsoft Corp., according to a biography of Jobs.

While Jobs was a vigorous competitor, he also came to view himself as an elder statesman with a responsibility for giving advice to Google’s Page, Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other emerging technology executives, according to “Steve Jobs,” an authorized biography by Walter Isaacson and published by CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster. It goes on sale Oct. 24.

“I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby or being larded with B players,” Jobs said of the meeting with Page this year in his living room. “Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft.”

Page, a co-founder of Google, sought the advice earlier this year, soon after he was named successor to Eric Schmidt.

Jobs told Isaacson that his first impulse was to refuse the request. Jobs had grown incensed over Google’s foray into smartphones, a market Apple entered in 2007 with the iPhone. Jobs then reflected on how Hewlett-Packard Co. co-founder William Hewlett had helped him earlier in his career.

Jobs said he intended to advise other executives in the succeeding months.

Zuckerberg’s Generation

“I will continue to do that with people like Mark Zuckerberg, too,” Jobs said. “That’s how I’m going to spend part of the time I have left. I can help the next generation remember the lineage of great companies here and how to continue the tradition. The Valley has been very supportive of me. I should do my best to repay.”

Jobs died on Oct. 5.

The biography, based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs, also gives fresh insight into the executive’s early interaction with Tim Cook, who later succeeded him as CEO and is now running the world’s most valuable technology company.

Cook, after joining Apple Inc. in 1998, quickly gained the trust of Jobs, who had recently taken back control of the company. Jobs initially oversaw supply chain after he returned to Apple in 1997 following a 12-year hiatus. By turning that responsibility over to Cook, Jobs was able to focus on product vision and broader strategy, instead of the nitty-gritty of manufacturing and purchasing the parts needed to build a growing array of products.

Confidence in Ive

“I trusted him to know exactly what to do,” Jobs told Isaacson. “He had the same vision I did, and we could interact at a high strategic level and I could just forget about a lot of things unless he came and pinged me.”

The book, purchased by Bloomberg, also highlights the central role played by Jonathan Ive, senior vice president of industrial design. Jobs considered Ive, who goes by Jony, his “spiritual partner” who was vital to product development, according to the book. Jobs said he set up Apple so that nobody could tell Ive what to do.

“He understands what we do at our core better than anyone,” Jobs said of Ive. “If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony.”

Jobs said he and Ive typically dreamed up Apple products, often having lunch together and collaborating on designs in Ive’s studio at Apple’s Cupertino, California, campus.

Cook, the son of a shipyard worker, oversaw Apple during Jobs’s three medical leaves as he battled a rare form of cancer that eventually claimed his life.

Jobs on ‘Mission’

When Jobs came back from his first medical leave in 2004, he was “on a mission,” Cook told Isaacson.

“Even though he was now running a large company he kept making bold moves that I don’t think anybody else would have done,” Cook said.

When Jobs hired Cook away from Compaq Computer, Jobs was pressing the company to build so-called just-in-time factories, where products are built as orders come in, limiting the amount of inventory sits on shelves, which can hurt financial results.

“I knew what I wanted and I met Tim, and he wanted the same thing,” Jobs said.

Cook sliced the number of key Apple suppliers to 24 from 100 and persuaded them to cut better financial deals or risk losing Apple’s business, according to the book. He also closed 10 of the company’s 19 warehouses to limit where inventory could build up. By September 1998, Cook had cut inventory down to six days, from about a month.

Cook Avoids Limelight

Cook, who majored in industrial engineering at Auburn University and earned a master’s of business administration from Duke University, said he knew within five minutes of meeting with Jobs that he wanted to work for Apple.

“My intuition told me that joining Apple would be a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for a creative genius,” Cook said. “Engineers are taught to make a decision analytically, but there are times when relying on gut or intuition is most indispensable.”

The book paints a picture of Cook as someone who thrived under Jobs because he was calm and decisive, while shunning the limelight.

“Some people resent the fact that Steve gets credit for everything, but I’ve never given a rat’s a** about that,” Cook said. “Frankly speaking, I’d prefer my name never be in the paper.”

Another key to Cook’s success was learning when and how to disagree with Jobs.

“I realized very early on that if you didn’t express your opinion, he would mow you down,” Cook said. “He takes contrary positions to create more discussion, because it may lead to a better result. So if you don’t feel comfortable disagreeing, then you’ll never survive.”

While handling day-to-day operations while Jobs was away for a liver transplant in 2009, Cook said during a conference call that Apple would thrive whoever is at the helm.

When he heard the remarks, Jobs didn’t know whether to be “proud or hurt that it might be true,” Isaacson wrote.

When Jobs returned from getting his transplant in Memphis that year, Ive and Cook met him at the airport.

--Editors: Tom Giles, Marcus Chan

To contact the reporters on this story: Adam Satariano in San Francisco at asatariano1@bloomberg.net; Peter Burrows in San Francisco at pburrows@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net


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