Yesterday’s news that Steve Jobs was stepping aside from Apple and today’s announcement that Warren Buffett will invest $5 billion in Bank of America provides business leadership pause of the first order.
First, Jobs. Silicon Valley Icon. Successful entrepreneur. Failed CEO then back to a higher degree of success than ever before — with the same company he founded. Unarguably the vision behind what may be the most successful suite of consumer products that the world has ever seen. Apple is a business case study of the highest order by any measure. The only possible exception may be the company’s governance, or lack of clear succession plan. Then again, in reality, it’s impossible to think that Apple’s board could replace Jobs with anyone without taking a hit so why not kick the can down the road when everything is going well. Classic short-term vs. long-term thinking, which is another issue not worth going into here.
Now let’s turn to the man himself. According to separate first-hand accounts from those who have actually worked with Steve Jobs (note to close readers: One was a Point of View LLC client; the other was someone who had close dealings when Jobs was replaced by John Scully as CEO), Jobs is at best a hard charging, take no prisoners, crush the competition business man. At worst, an asshole, according to first-hand impression.
The question then becomes: Does this type of behavior indicate anything relevant to standing as a business leader? Or are these traits simply what’s necessary to be effective at a big business level? For comparison purposes, is there any difference between what Jobs demonstrated in one-on-one dealings to create great products vs. what Gen. George Patton (played brilliantly by George C. Scott in “Patton”) modeled during World War II?
Oracle of Omaha comes to the rescue again
Buffett’s investment in Bank of America Corp. essentially rescues an equity headed into the ditch following questions about the bank’s capital reserves. The $5 billion investment, which comes with a guaranteed six percent return, also recalls a scarier time back when the market crashed in 2008 and the Oracle of Omaha came to the side of Goldman Sachs, which at the time was the country’s largest still standing investment bank (if those distinctions matter anymore.)
Now, three years later, this gesture is viewed as absolutely necessary in the era of Too Big to Fail or negative reminder of how little banking has progressed since TARP bailouts. The Buffett brand remains directly positioned in the mix.
As a long-time observer and admirer, I’m slowly arriving at a different place when it comes to Warren Buffett’s standing as a brand-name leader. It started back when his memoirs were published in 2008, and the Wall Street Journal reported that Buffett opposed some of what eventually was revealed with his own approval. This isn’t uncommon but it still created a new perception. Buffett also been very vocal and publicly visible on CNBC almost to the point of calling into question when is it enough? When President Obama sought public approval to help reach a deal that eventually led to the nation’s debt being downgraded, he called on Buffett and then proceeded to broadcast to the world what “my friend, Warren Buffett” had said. So much for confidential decorum.
There’s a underlying nagging question out of all of this and that is…Do we need to see and hear from our leaders as much as we do now in the 24-7 news culture? Doesn’t that take away a certain amount of gravitas or perceived credibility? Has the public/private disclosure balance been forever imbalanced?
Please let us know what you think sometime about these questions in the context of effective leadership. Always reaching for a different view to help sharpen our own. Thanks for reading,