Entrepreneurial Persistence: Steve Jobs

As we awaited Hurricane Irene's arrival Saturday evening in New York City, it was a good time to reflect on how we can restore growth to a sluggish global economy and the important role entrepreneurs need to play. Two weeks ago I wrote, Entrepreneurs & a Week of Volatility in the U.S. & U.K.! and stated, "I believe that we need to unleash entrepreneurs in both the U.S. & U.K. and let them, once again, create the jobs that will drive more revenue into the government coffers from an engaged workforce that has been idled by unemployment for too long."

What separates entrepreneurs from corporate business managers? Why are they able to translate their visions into enterprises that end up growing much faster than the average large corporation and in the process create many new jobs and opportunities for growth for their employees?

With Steve Jobs stepping down this past week as CEO of Apple and moving to the role of Chairman of the Board, I thought back to the first time I met Steve. It was in the spring of 1992 and I had recently moved to the Bay Area to join IDG as President of InfoWorld. I was teamed with Bob Metcalfe by Pat McGovern, the founder and guiding force behind IDG. Bob joined InfoWorld as Chairman and Publisher. His tech credentials were outstanding. He had worked at Xerox PARC and was the inventor of Ethernet. He went on to found 3Com, one of the early networking companies. One day early in our tenure my phone rang and Bob asked me to come down the hall to his office. As I entered, I saw someone on the floor with his back to me tearing pages out of a number of magazines that were scattered on the floor in front of him. He briefly turned to see who had entered the room and Bob introduced me to Steve, who then went back to tearing pages out of issues of NeXTWorld.

This was during his years of exodus from Apple, when John Sculley had convinced the board to allow him to remove Steve, one of the co-founders of Apple, from the company. Steve knew Bob and was making a pitch on why we, InfoWorld, would be a much better publishing partner for NeXT than the division of IDG that was publishing NeXTWorld. What struck me was Steve's enthusiasm for a computing platform that never gained much traction. That platform would eventually provide the foundation for a new Mac OS X operating system when when Steve returned to Apple in 1996 with the acquisition of NeXT by Apple.

In many ways, the spring of 1992 was the midpoint for Jobs in his exile from Apple and yet one could sense that he still had a unique sense of confidence and a desire to have the world share his vision. At that point he was not the iconic innovator the world has come to admire, but an entrepreneur trying to gain recognition and market share for his latest venture.

I realized many years later that his persistence, when combined with his creativity and innovative sense of style, set him apart from many of the other entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. You knew in speaking with him that failure was not an option. There would be setbacks and detours along the way, but Steve Jobs was determined to bring his vision to the rest of the world, well beyond The Valley. Shortly after he returned to Apple with the purchase of NeXT and had taken over as CEO of Apple, I had an appointment with him along with two other colleagues (I was then a board member of Mac Publishing, a joint venture between IDG and Ziff Davis). We went to see him regarding the Mac clones, which at the time were providing significant advertising dollars to our publication and also providing market share growth for the Macintosh. Steve listened and was cordial and then one week later made a decision with regards to licensing that effectively ended the clones. He knew where he was headed and partners were not part of his plan.

Today we celebrate his brilliance for the launch of the iPod, iPhone and iPad and for creating the most valuable company in America, based on market capitalization, but his persistence was what carried him through those middle years in the '80s and early '90s and allowed him to triumphantly reach the pinnacle of success as an entrepreneurial legend.