Apple Computer's president and chief executive officer, John Sculley, complained earlier this year that personnel changes at Apple were followed as avidly as cast changes on "Dynasty."
Well, why not? As the past few weeks have revealed, there's good reason. The pettiness, backbiting and power plays that have pocked Apple over the last months rival those of the merely fictional adventures of Denver Carrington. What's more, Steve Jobs is at least as rich as Blake Carrington and does a pretty fair job of writing his own lines. Unlike the "Dynasty" hero, however, he had become a mere figurehead in the company he helped found. Now, of course, he's effectively gone, though he remains the biggest shareholder.
But this is more than the tale of a brilliant but egocentric entrepreneur railing against the torrents of change that swept him out of a job. Jobs is no Lear broken by the ingratitude of a vengeful corporate offspring. He is a man capable of ruthless opportunism and excess; a visionary who often believed that the ends justified the means; and an individual too often unwilling to concede that other people had vision and insight, too.
My friends and sources at Apple were curiously ambiguous about Jobs -- very few genuinely liked him; all thought him one of the most important people in their lives.
Still, the folks at Apple protest their innocence in the Jobs affair a little too much. As a past column here noted, Steven Jobs was shabbily treated. He was neutered by a corporate reorganization that left him with a nice title and little else. He was publicly humiliated by the man he helped hire -- John Sculley -- who told security analysts earlier this summer that Jobs would have no active role in Apple's future.
When Jobs tendered his resignation letter to Apple Vice Chairman A. C. Markkula, he plaintively wrote, "As you know, the company's recent reorganization left me with no work to do and no access even to regular management reports. I am but 30 and still want to contribute and achieve."
It's understandable that Sculley and the rest of Apple's board -- pressured by sliding earnings and eroding market shares -- would think that it's more important to manage a company than manage a company and an ofttimes petulant chairman.
Still, how can it be considered good management to have the company's founder and chairman leave in a huff of accusations and counter-accusations?
Why was it so difficult to let Steve Jobs carve out a niche, project or subsidiary that would have let him stay at Apple?
Clearly, Jobs' leadership of the Macintosh team proved he could develop technically brilliant products. But, do you know something? Only one or two people from the original Jobs Macintosh team remain at Apple. The rest have gone off to other companies or on their own.
Admittedly, there's always a letdown after pushing yourself for months to meet critical deadlines -- but isn't it odd that the attrition rate for the Mac team is so high?
I don't buy the malarkey that the heart and soul of Apple has been ripped out by Jobs' departure, nor do I believe that his leaving paves the way for the sort of "professional" management that Apple allegedly needs. Instead, I think it reveals just how confused Apple is about itself.
Will somebody tell me what kind of company Apple is? Is it a business-personal-computer company? A consumer-computer company? An educational-computer company? Is the Macintosh a business machine? An artist's tool? A document processor?
At least Jobs could stand before the press and the analysts and crisply articulate what he was trying to do. His vision may have been grandiose or flawed, but there was undeniably a sense of self and of the future.
Unfortunately, Jobs' vision couldn't coexist with Apple's new structure. Migosh! The irony of seeing all those Apple ads on the CBS showing of "Death of a Salesman" and then learning that Jobs had washed out of Apple was simply chilling. Willy Loman and Steven Jobs, both salesmen, were done in by their illusions. At least Jobs has his millions.
The bottom line is that Jobs' departure is more symbolic than substantial: The reorganization is what did him in. The real question now is whether Apple can find a new symbol and new leadership to rally around in the company's continuing effort to find both itself and markets it can profitably serve.