steve jobs would’ve hated orgtheory

The coverage of Steve Jobs taught me a lot about Apple’s organization. For example, Steve Jobs did not believe in middle management. He believed in having divisions run by specialists. Advertising is run by people with a deep knowledge of advertising or graphics, not a generically trained manager:

Specialization is the norm at Apple, and as a result, Apple employees aren’t exposed to functions outside their area of expertise. Jennifer Bailey, the executive who runs Apple’s online store, for example, has no authority over the photographs on the site. Photographic images are handled companywide by Apple’s graphic arts department. Apple’s powerful retail chief, Ron Johnson, doesn’t control the inventory in his stores. Tim Cook, whose background is in supply-chain management, handles inventory across the company. (Johnson has plenty left to do, including site selection, in-store service, and store layout.)

Jobs sees such specialization as a process of having best-in-class employees in every role, and he has no patience for building managers for the sake of managing. “Steve would say the general manager structure is bullshit,” says Mike Janes, the former Apple executive. “It creates fiefdoms.” Instead, rising stars are invited to attend executive team meetings as guests to expose them to the decision-making process. It is the polar opposite of the General Electric-like (GE) notion of creating well-rounded executives.

Also, apparently, Jobs didn’t believe in human resources, until very recently.

Two comments: First, Jobs, as Kieran noted, was a charismatic leader. He also had an amazingly deep set of skills, derived from having worked in high tech in some capacity since age 13.  He also managed a company that produced highly related products. These issues obviate the need for generic managers.

Second, there’s little evidence that having a flat structure is necessary. In  high tech, we see a wide range of business models that are highly successful – even revolutionary. Google is wildly successful and seems to have a very different culture and structure. I wouldn’t draw general lessons from Jobs’ disdain for management. Apple’s structure flows from Jobs’ personality and his specific career (e.g., after returning to Apple, Jobs ejected all the old school management).

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Written by fabiorojas

October 15, 2011 at 12:31 am

5 Responses

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  1. “steve jobs would’ve hated orgtheory”

    A certain brand of orgtheory, yes. I think there’s a brand that is conducive to his tastes as well. Plus it’s all contingent anyways.



    October 15, 2011 at 12:48 am

  2. Jobs happened at a certain moment in a particular field. He filled an empty niche created by the PC/mixcrosoft nexus. Management matters in well defined fields where
    comparative advantages come from small differences in innovation or efficiency. This was Ono Job’s niche.


    don t-d

    October 15, 2011 at 2:54 am

  3. […] steve jobs would’ve hated orgtheory ( […]


  4. […] steve jobs would’ve hated orgtheory – […]


  5. Your catchy blog post title may not be entirely warranted. Specialists in technical domain areas will inevitably need complementary knowledge when they become managers and leaders.

    Does the case of Apple show that the need of “organic structure” in turbulent environments can be replaced by one S. Jobs? The organization would seem ill-suited to adapt without CEO interventions if there is a rigid division of labor and authority based on functional responsibilities (a structure typically associated with low cost strategy).

    On the other hand, maybe culture and processes really matter quite a bit more than structure.



    October 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm

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