Aug 13

Larry Ellison gets Steve Jobs wrong — twice

Larry Ellison loves Steve Jobs. They hung out together. They were best friends.

Hell, when Steve was in exile, Larry even offered to use his money to buy Apple so Steve could return as CEO. (See the Steve Jobs biography.)

On top of that, Larry knows a thing or two about the technology business and what it takes to run a company.

However, like everyone else on this planet, Larry is capable of being exquisitely wrong — even when he talks about his great friend.

Here are two examples, starting with his most recent:

1. We all know what will happen to Apple without Steve Jobs.

In the Charlie Rose interview above, Ellison makes a very matter-of-fact statement about Apple’s future without Jobs’ leadership.

Basically, he says that we’ve already seen how bad Apple was without Steve and how amazing it was with him. Therefore, it’s obvious what’s bound to happen next.

Unfortunately, one can’t compare the Apple of 1985 to the Apple of today.

When Steve left Apple in 1985, the company continued its struggle to find a formula for success. To no avail, it kept trying to crack the business market. It stumbled when trying to break new ground (Newton).

When Steve returned in 1997, he demonstrated the winning formula: keep innovating, love the customers and never compromise on quality.

The 1985 Apple was a fledgling company with many question marks. The Apple Steve left behind more recently is mature, with a super-strong sense of identity. It understands that innovation is its lifeblood.

During his second time around, Steve put a lot of work into building a foundation for Apple’s future success — which was not the case in 1985.

So the ending to this story isn’t nearly as conclusive as Larry Ellison might think.

Let us also note that back in 2012, Ellison said Apple won’t be the same without Steve Jobs, but that it will “thrive without him.” Make up your mind!

2. Apple should never have fired Steve Jobs.

Referring to H.P.’s firing of Mark Hurd in 2010, Ellison said in an email to The New York Times: “H.P. just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.”

Clearly Steve and Apple made business history together. But they likely would not have achieved such spectacular success had Steve not spent all those years away from Apple.

Steve matured as a business leader at NeXT, having to start a new company from scratch. He acquired Pixar and gained a world of experience there. He developed NeXTSTEP software at NeXT, which became the much-needed foundation for Apple’s operating systems of the future, Mac OS X and iOS. Some of the most important experiences of Steve Jobs’ life occurred during his time away from Apple.

Of course, back in 1985, no one could possibly know how things were going to play out. But knowing what we know today, it’s hard to imagine Hollywood producing a more perfect script.

Many factors all came together to make Steve a success when he returned to Apple in 1997 — none of which would have existed had the board never sent him packing.


  • Not to mention that most of the people high up at Apple today are people that helped Steve make Apple the success it became, helped form and solidify the culture that’s often solely attributed to Steve, and are people Steve entrusted to take Apple into the future. I’m not worried in the least about Apple’s future.

  • Omichael

    Possibly true, though Steve was already pushing what came to be NeXt before being flung from Apple, wasn’t he? Wasn’t hat part of what got him flung in the first place? And as Lassiter just said the other day, Jobs was looking to have Apple acquire Pixar before being flung.
    As much as I still expect Apple o have many good years ahead, and agree with the gist to a degree, there really is no replacing Steve’s insight and future-minded ness, and to a very great extentTHAT is what made Apple. Hard to push the envelope when you don’t really know where it is. The whole idea of new ideas is a hell of a lot different for most folks that naturally see a sort of linear development rather than an organized shuffle..

  • ksegall

    What Steve did at NeXT was far different than anything he was pushing at Apple. He took his group of people and spent more than a year brainstorming about what kind of computer the world needed next before they even started to build anything. And it was the software NeXT developed that became the company’s jewel.

    I totally agree that Steve can’t be replaced. He was unique. It can’t be the same without him, but it can still be good. (Just like Larry Ellison said last year.) Walt Disney learned to survive without Walt.

  • HammerOfTruth

    Don’t forget Larry loves the spotlight, so if he can say something controversial, he will.

    The fact is, nobody can predict what will happen at Apple. People are still upset that the rate and caliber of products coming out of Apple post Jobs is not fast enough and they long for the days when Steve was announcing great products.

  • ksegall

    This idea of “not innovating fast enough” is repeated over and over in the press. You’d think that the facts might enter into the conversation. Steve Jobs’ bigger splashes went like this:

    iMac (1998)
    Three years later: iPod (2001)
    Six years later: iPhone (2007)
    Three years later: iPad (2010)

    See a pattern there? I’m still looking for one. Despite what some believe, you can’t exactly set your watch by these events.

    Depending on how you look at it, a revolutionary product from Apple by the end of 2013 will either be right on time — or three years ahead of time.

  • HammerOfTruth

    I agree. It is amazing that there were so many great products within twelve years of each other from one company, especially compared to the previous 12 years.
    I wish that Apple would have aired the video they started this years WWDC with. It helps explain why you have to plan out your innovation and not just throw things out there to see if they pan out. For a good example of what not to do, just look at Samsung’s Galaxy S4 active.

  • Jessica Darko

    I see a pattern. Every 3 years, Apple tries to introduce something significant. They just don’t always succeed. It worked for the iMac and the iPod, then in 2004, it didn’t work. (Maybe it was going to be the cube?) It worked again for the iPhone and iPad.

    Maybe this fall we’ll get a new major product– you’ll know it when people decry how Apple has really jumped the shark now and there’s no way people are going to buy a watch/tv/whatever at that price/features and how its’ already been done by others.

    If the iMac had been a mediocre success Apple might still have been viable, it just wouldn’t be thought of as the “classic” and the “turning point”. There were many products introduced between the iMad and the iPad, any one of which *could* have been as significant as those two, but only the iPod and iPhone were. So, I think you can say that Apple has classic products when it goes into new areas, but it’s in retrospect that we pick the “big ones”.

    For instance, the iPod nano– maybe that was the 2004 big splash, and it was significant for the iPod line, but the credit for it is going to the original iPod in your summary above. It’s a matter of perception, the iPod was a success in part because of the nano, but the nano wasn’t the “new category”. Though in 2006 if you’d written this same list of big splashes you might have included it, the same way you include the iPad. (Depending on what happens later, the iPad may be the iPod nano to the iPhone.)

  • Andrew Fields

    I would also point to the great car companies (Ferrari, Porsche, mercedes, BMW) as examples of brands that have thrived without their visionary founders. In any case, Apple has a lot of pressure on it right now, and there will be no let-up until they release something new and smashing. Its unfair, I mean how much money can one company extract from people? People must be running out of money out there.

  • 21tigermike

    I’m not sure if you’ve really disputed the downturn since SJ passed. You’ve reiterated what Steve himself has said many times (that he grew in every possible way, during his time away from Apple). It’s almost Fall 2013 and we’ve heard almost nothing from Cupertino, but for some software updates, which, I might add, Apple makes almost no money from.

    I know, I know.. secrecy.. but… what gives? A new iPhone is simply not going to do it. Investors want to hear about their TV plans. If that doesn’t happen 2013 will be a huge dud.

  • Sealion

    “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” -Bill Gates. I believe everyone overestimates what Apple can do in a year and underestimates what they can do with a couple of years.

  • ksegall

    You really can’t pigeon-hole Apple into an “every three year” plan. The fact is, Apple is constantly creating new products and updating existing products — but when people talk about Apple’s slowing pace of innovation, they are talking about those big, earth-shaking products.

    I don’t think that it is in retrospect that we identify which Apple products are the revolutionary ones. iPod and iTunes changed the world in a big way, and did so very quickly — as did iPhone and iPad. These products looked like revolutions they day they were introduced.

    No matter how brilliant the next iPhone is, it will still be seen as an incremental upgrade to an existing product. Ditto if there is a new bigger-screen iPhone. It will get a lot of press — but it won’t be considered to be a game-changer like the first iPhone. This is what happened with all the new models of iPod that you mentioned. They were news at the time, but when people talk about the iPod revolution, they’re talking about the concept — not any of the different iPods that were launched along the way.

    One last note: you’re wrong about iMac not needing to be a revolutionary product. As a part of that effort, I can tell positively that Apple needed a milestone product, not a “mediocre success.” Steve Jobs was banking on that product to re-launch the company in the public’s eye and in the minds of his employees. It was make-it-or-break-it time, because as Steve himself said: Apple was 90 days from bankruptcy at the time.

  • Hm

    “Unfortunately, one can’t compare the Apple of 1985 to the Apple of today.”

    I’d say that’s actually very fortunate! But overall I agree with you, with some sway towards what I think Ellison was really saying, which is simply that Apple will never be quite the same without Steve. It may and most likely will continue to be very successful, but a pilot light has gone out there that can never be replaced, much like with Walt Disney and Henry Ford before him. No matter how successful (or not) Apple are from here on, Steve will forever remain the legendary founder and leader that all future performance will be compared to, rightly or wrongly.

    As to his early ouster, I agree that Ellison is wrong on that. Steve’s years away helped to mature and prepare him for his eventual spectacular return and Apple’s renewed success. We can never know what might have happened if he had not been kicked out, but I believe everything happens for a reason…

    What do you think of the new HTC advert?

  • ksegall

    I really don’t measure Apple by its performance since Steve passed away. I measure its performance over time, with and without Steve at the helm.

    If one believes in the “revolution every three years” scenario, 2013 is the year we would see some major unveiling. it’s been three years since the unveiling of iPad. In that way of thinking, 2013 would be the year when something bigger happens — and 2013 is far from over. Yet so many people criticize or worry that the next revolution is “overdue.”

    Along the way, Apple has continued to update all of its products at least annually, some in very substantial ways. (iMac, iPod, iPad and the Mac-Pro-to-be.) Yet again many conclude that Apple is not the innovator it once was.

    Honestly, I don’t expect Apple to be exactly like it was when Steve was running the show. Steve was unique. But I do expect it to carry on with his values, and that it will continue to be Apple-like in its approach to innovation. That is:

    Just concentrate on making great products, and believe that good things will happen as a result.

    Personally, I’ll be surprised if there isn’t a cool new product available from Apple for the holiday season. But I also don’t think it would be the end of the world if the next intro doesn’t happen until 2014.

  • FrotSkyman

    So glad you wrote this, Ken! Couldn’t agree more.

  • AudioInjectedSoul

    “When Steve returned in 1997, he demonstrated the winning formula: keep innovating, love the customers and never compromise on quality.”
    When did Apple last innovate? It’s beginning to be a little while.
    Love the customer. What does that even mean?
    Never compromise on quality. Heard about the new cheap iPhone?
    Apple has already forgot who they are and are now going after money and market share. Steve never cared about this, never.

    It’s sad to see Apple slowly fade away (although the downward path has still not begun), but then again, Samsung continue where Apple left off, so I guess it’ll be all good in the end.

  • Gary Deezy

    I like how you can project the new cheap iPhone will be a compromise of quality — all regarding a product that has yet to be released. With that kind of magical foresight, you should invest heavily in the stock market or the lottery.

  • AudioInjectedSoul

    How do you think they get it cheaper, hmm?
    Don’t need magical foresight, logic and common sense is enough ;)

  • Nameless Coward

    Though not cheap, Apple’s quality can’t be matched on price by others…

    Remember iPad 1? Cheaper and of better quality than what the copy cats could deliver.

    Logic and common sense I find lacking in most.

    Perception of quality differs culturally.
    Generally speaking Americans appreciate quality as abundance, futile Europe as fines.

    Abundance in choice has some depreciate common sense.

    Magic is mind over matter. Steve had that quality.

  • Nameless Coward

    Finesse [ Damn you autocorrect ]

  • Nameless Coward

    iMac mediocre? ha ha? lol

    Here in futile Europe I was introduced to Apple making waves with the iMac.

    I reacted like a caveman bewildered and surprised with awe for a machine I never had felt before. Aggression was part of the experience too. It was new and different. It meant change. We had no internets, we knew only knew Microsoft was good for us.

    In hindsight Apple pushed all my buttons.

    Now I’m pushing buttons their buttons on my 5th Apple machine, a maxed out CTO 27 inch iMac.

    I call it The Sexy Beast.

  • Nameless Coward

    Ken, as said, you are a clear and articulate thinker on all things Apple.
    The media would do well getting your book and stop by this blog to read.

    Ppl, read his book Insanly Simple. I highly recommend it.

    Apple knows pressure and I believe all this talk is nothing but whining from little spoiled brats that either can’t wait or want to bully anther to do their homework.

    Reminds me of this ‘interview’ with a Samsung exec that was in the media a few days ago – find it on apple fan sites. The lingo is full of this indoctrination on the so called state of crisis and the ‘underdog position’ and how ppl supposedly see sammy not as a leader but.. .. in other words Apple.
    The ceo of Sammy came back from a thinktank spouting the state of crisis mantra. Same as the panic on copying iPhone &iOS Now all lower execs babble the same way.
    Can’t nobody see they are indirectly insinuating that they are Apple?
    Now they are the dangerous cult.

  • ksegall

    Which new HTC ad? Send a link!

  • You mean this one? http://youtu.be/OVE1OcfB1E4

  • Dmitri

    I second the suggestion to read Ken’s book, “Insanely Simple.” It’s by far the best book about what made Steve Jobs tick. I still return to it when I want a dose of simplicity to clear my mind. Everyone who reads this blog should check it out.

  • AudioInjectedSoul

    Busted ;)

  • hyperhyper

    While his second statement is wrong, I think he is right about the first one. Steve Jobs took risks and the Apple we see today does not take big risks. Nor do they make huge leaps ahead anymore as the last 2 years of OS and hardware have all about keeping up with the competition. They are too big and have too much responsibility towards the shareholders to gamble anymore because they are no longer the disruptor they relished being.

  • ksegall

    I honestly don’t get this criticism (and you’re certainly not the only person who’s said it).

    Look at Apple’s history with Steve Jobs. There were plenty of times when Apple went for three years or more without introducing a breakthrough product. During those times, the company simply updated its hardware and software.

    So what’s the difference between then and now? Why is Apple suddenly “no longer a disruptor” when it continues to innovate at the same pace it did in Steve’s day?

  • hyperhyper

    I’m looking at them as more as the “Toyota/Beige” type product now. I’ll recommend their products to anyone who just wants a something that works and puts them somewhere between the middle and the top of technology curve. They don’t have all the latest and greatest but they get you 80% of the way there. They are also relatively bug free products, have a nice design and you can be sure that Apple will take care of you if anything goes wrong.

    As to the specific difference between now and then, you can see how they are now reacting to the market instead of setting the standards. Look at the iPhone (bigger screen sizes, cheaper models) and iPad (mini version). These are all reactionary decisions to fend off the competition. That was not the Apple I knew from around 2000 up until about 3 years ago. The biggest thing about the iOS 7 incorporates features from all of it’s competitors. The camera on the iPhone used to be the best but now it ranks in the top 10 depending on what is being tested. Water resistant seals, flexible displays, temperature detection, pedometer, eye tracking, fingerprinting, NFC and LTE are all features that are not even on the iPhone yet and if they are, they were 1-2 years behind the competition. You look at the keyboard on the iPhone and how it has not changed while the competition has surged ahead without a response from Apple in the last 3 years. Heck, I was going to pick up an Apple TV a couple of years ago until I found out it only did 720p while the competition was doing 1080p. I’ve got a large (over 100″) display so that kind of thing matters to me. They finally caught up but they were not the first.

    To me, Steve kept the all the personalities tightly locked down in a iron grip and without him (or a similar personality), you can see that things are changing and that there are some squabbles/leaks and such. He was a benevolent dictator but he was also a great visionary. While he may have left a roadmap in place for his successors to follow, there is no way to mimic his leadership style.

    IBM, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. Some are on top now, some are sliding off the top and some used to be on top. The only thing for sure is that no one stays on top forever and that is the way of things. I do hope they come out with something that knocks my socks off because it creates competition and that is good for consumers.

  • George Kucera

    I agree with your specific rebuttals to his two claims. #1, historical situations are never the same. People are not bacteria in a petri dish. Govts always treat them as such with great hubris, and thus cause chaos in the economy.
    #2 I agree, and so did Jobs, that his firing did more to help him grow than keeping him on would have. He credits much of his later success to his firing by Apple. That said, his philosophy was more “right” than the board & CEO who fired him, which is why Apple was run into the ground.

    Jobs was the greatest business leader of the past several generations. The world is a better place because of his passion for making great products. In this way, much of Larry’s comments were accurate.

  • George Kucera

    The part where Larry was accurate was that Apple sine Jobs will do less well than Apple cum Jobs.