Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

What can I possibly add to the numerous commentaries about the life and death of Steve Jobs that are already permeating the web? Perhaps not much but I want to give it a try with the following perspective: What should early career engineering managers and engineering management students take away from the Steve Jobs phenom.

My first thought is; be careful not to take away too much from the life and death of Steve Jobs. I don’t mean this to be negative and I am as big a Steve Jobs fan as anyone – he was, rather he is, an icon. But what I mean is that the way he managed his life and career may not be a way that most of us should emulate. Or to put it another way, if we try to do things the way Steve Jobs did, it may not lead to success for many of us. Of course, the general characteristics he embodied such as; vision, creativity, persistence, customer centric design, etc. are great for us all to strive for. But let’s face it, people like Jobs (or Bill Gates or Andy Grove or John Chambers or Jack Welch), are icons due to an extremely rare combination of intellect, drive, judgment, perception, and the list goes on. There is a bit of luck and timing involved too but these folks are way out on the tail of any bell curve you want to use to characterize people. So back to Steve Jobs, his incredible ability to change the paradigm of an industry time and time again is truly remarkable and something I do not think can be copied. And some of his management approaches, and life decisions, while accomplishing this may not be right for many of us (for example, see http://blogs.hbr.org/davenport/2011/10/was_steve_jobs_a_good_decision.html). Can you afford to use intuition (or your “gut”) rather than analytics to make major decisions or can you afford to micromanage a process rather than empower the process owners? In many cases Jobs could. And for Jobs, dropping out of school was a good decision (see his Stanford Graduation Speech; http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidewalt/2011/10/05/steve-jobs-2005-stanford-commencement-address/). Would it really be right for you? I could go on but suffice it to say: Choose the exceptional characteristics that you want to integrate into your career but use your own self-awareness and judgment to know the limits for you.

My second thought about the passing of Steve Jobs is simply that we are all mortal. It is somewhat sobering to be reminded that anyone, even someone who has done so much to shape the current world we live in, can die too young. For those of you starting out your careers, I think this supports what you hear from all the career experts – choose something you love to do. As with Jobs, you may be doing it until very close to the end of your time here. But also, and a bit more subtly, it is a reminder that every decision you make until you die is a choice. Whether that choice is to work 12 hours a day or to achieve balance between work and home life, it is your choice. One is not better than the other. As Jack Welch, another management icon, has said, it is not about balance it is about choices. There are only so many hours in the day and so what you choose to do with your time, either way, has consequences. When you make choices, understand those consequences and determine if they are acceptable. Include risk and probability in your assessment as you make these choices and take a long term view. I think Steve Jobs death brings this into focus. He seems to have done what he loved until very close to his death.

Finally, Jobs death puts a spotlight on Leadership: Its importance and its complexity. There are no formulas. Few could have predicted that Steve Jobs could leave Apple, reshape animation entertainment, and return to save Apple, making it the most valuable company in the world. Very smart people asked him to leave Apple, successful leaders in their own right. Jobs himself hired John Sculley, who was not succesful for Apple. For many years I thought that the value we put on leadership in our organizations, as judged by the exorbitant salaries we pay, was over the top, not reasonable. But over the years, as I have observed what great leaders can do for an organization, I have become more and more supportive of such pay. (Of course, there is a limit and I am not referring to the high profile cases where performance does not support such pay or with some of the Wall Street pay that is not related to running a great company – but that is another story). So Jobs is an extreme example of what great leaders can do and how much influence they can have on an organization, an industry and even a society. As with any extreme, there are plenty of characteristics other than great leadership that come along for the ride but the point is simply that leaders can have exceptional impact.

In summary, for early career engineering managers and students about to start their careers; (i) leaders have incredible impact, consider how you can develop your leadership skills for you future career, but remember (ii) it is about choices and every decision you make on your way to a leadership role will impact all aspects of your life so choose based on the consequences of your decision and finally (iii) don’t expect that you can do it the same way Steve Jobs did.

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Every now and then we have the opportunity to observe an exceptional demonstration of leadership.  Yesterday that opportunity came in the form of an email that Bob Muglia, Executive Officer at Microsoft and President of Microsoft’s Servers and Tools Business, sent to his staff about his decision to leave Microsoft after 23 years.  Yes, I said 23 years.  To put that in perspective, Bob is about my age so he would have been under 30 when he joined the company.  And in 1987 Microsoft had approximately $345.9 million in revenue and 1,816 employees.  In 2010 Microsoft had approximately $18.8 BILLION in revenue and 89,000 employees.  Whatever your opinion of Microsoft, they changed the way we live and Bob was an integral part of that.

But what is my reason for going on about this.  Read Bob’s email to his employees below and you will see.  This is one of the best summaries of leadership I have read (Full Disclosure: Bob and I are related in a roundabout way: step-brother-in-laws or something like that!).  It is a classy, articulate, thoughtful way to announce a departure – exactly what you would expect from Bob if you had followed his career.  Some of the things I like about this note include; i) he reinforces the values and culture that he believes in and that made his groups achieve incredible success, ii) he humbly describes how much he has learned from others – colleagues,  customers and industry partners, iii) he accepts full responsibility for the transition, agreeing to stay on until new leadership is in place, and iv) there is not a sour grape in the note, just appreciation for the great opportunities that Microsoft provided.  In addition, look at the leadership ideas he describes: integrity, principles, listening, being honest (even when it hurts), taking responsibility for incorrect decisions, providing clarity of roles and responsibilities for the people you lead, creating an environment of teamwork (one that is a “joy” to be a part of), and finally, delivering results.  I really like this list.  Those of you in Duke’s MEMP will see these same concepts in your core management course.

Moving on from any position can be difficult.  You have forged relationships, developed a level of comfort and even have a raison d’être in your organization.  I am sure some MEMP students will go on to greatness and will then need to transition out of a high level position.  I hope you use this as a template for how to move on when it is time.  (You can see Steve Ballmer’s announcement of this transition and the note below on ZDNet.com)

From: Bob Muglia
Sent: Monday, January 10, 2011 9:34 AM
To: STB FTE Worldwide; Executive Staff
Subject: Thoughts from Bobmu

Last week I celebrated 23 years working for Microsoft.   During that time Microsoft has grown from a brilliant, yet awkward and aggressive adolescent riding a rocket ship into a mature industry leader.  I’ve learned an amazing amount from the people with whom I’ve worked, from the customers I’ve served, and from the many partners who share this industry.  I feel blessed to have had the privilege of working with so many great people.  Later this year, I’m moving on to new opportunities outside of Microsoft, so I wanted to take a few minutes to share with you what’s important to me in life and leadership.   

The foundation of who I am is based on living with integrity.  Integrity requires principles, and my primary principle is to focus on doing the right thing, as best I can.  The best thing, to the best of my ability, for our customers, our products, our shareholders, and of course, our people. 

Other principles, or guideposts by which I live, are learning from and listening to others to make the best decision possible; not being afraid to admit a mistake and change a decision when it is wrong; being consistently honest, even when it hurts; treating our customers, partners, and people with the respect they deserve, with the expectation that each of my actions forms the basis of a lifetime relationship; and finally, being willing to admit and apologize when I have not lived up to these principles.  

Integrity is my cornerstone for leading people.  Leading starts by setting a strategy – not one that I’ve dreamed up myself but something that my team has worked together to create.  The strategy provides the North Star for each person.

The second part of leading people is creating a structure that enables collaboration and provides clarity of roles and responsibilities.  This is more than an organizational structure; it is creating a system so people can work together effectively and productively, in an environment that makes it possible for each person to give their best.

Leading is more than strategy and structure; it’s all about people.  Choosing the right people for each role is critical, but insufficient.  Even more important is empowering every person to be their best, to work with others, to be as creative as possible.  It’s about providing each and every person with encouragement when they’ve done something amazing and constructive feedback when they are off track.

While each individual is important, success requires a team.  The team is more important than the needs or capabilities of any individual.  This is what makes a team much more than the sum of the parts, and a joy to be part of.

That brings me to delivering results.  Results are built when people act with integrity and deliver their best.  Results are all about the positive impact we have on the world – transforming personal lives and revolutionizing ways of doing business. 

As a leader at Microsoft, I have a responsibility for delivering results to our shareholders.  STB has performed well – with revenue growing from $9.7B in 2006 before I took over, to $14.9B reported last July, and operating income climbing from $3B to $5.5B over the same period.   That’s over a 50% increase in revenue with a near doubling in income.  That growth continued during the first quarter of our FY11.  There are few organizations in the industry who have demonstrated the same results. 

I am incredibly excited by the emergence of cloud computing, and the opportunity it represents to shape business and the way people live for years to come.  I have deeply enjoyed my role in positioning Microsoft as a leader and innovator in cloud computing.

The coming months are a time of transition.  During this time, I will be fully engaged in leading STB until new leadership is in place.  After that, I will continue to do everything I can to help Microsoft, STB, and all of you.

I particularly want to recognize the outstanding work done by my current team in the Server and Tools Business over the past four years.  We rapidly built a series of best-of-breed products that changed the way businesses run, while helping our customers and partners be successful.  We’ve led the industry while facing tough competitors, most notably Linux, VMware, and Oracle.  We succeeded by focusing on the simple idea that our customers make smart decisions, so we need to provide the best solution for everything our customers want to do with our products. 

Microsoft is a blessing in my life and a blessing for my family.  I love working with our customers and partners.  Most of all, I treasure the wonderful and bright people with whom I’m privileged to work each day.  I hope that in some way, large or small, I have helped each of you to lead your life with your own deep sense of integrity, that you help to bring out the best in other people, and deliver the results that matter most to you.

My best to you, with thanks,


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