What Makes a Great CEO
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a CEO is “a person with the highest rank in a business company.” We got that, but what makes him or her a great CEO? That is the real question that we would like to explore.
There is no factual data to back up this theory, but we may be able to shed some light through two excellent CEOs, one who has completed his story, and another who continues to write his.
Steve Jobs was the co-founder of Apple, the world’s most valuable company. Childhood adversities did not stop Steve from building a legacy. The Reed College dropout co-founded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976, was ousted in 1985, and returned to rescue the company from near bankruptcy in 1997. Jobs transformed the industries in personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing before his death in 2011, eventually leading it to become the most valuable company in world history.
Steve Jobs strongly believed in Face-to-Face interactions. He understood the fallacy of the digital world that led to isolation and built Pixar building to promote in-person interactions. The central atrium, connected to various parts of the building, fostered collaboration and creativity. He was a masterful salesman and understood the importance of face to face connection.
In his book “Steve Jobs,” Walter Isaacson, the Aspen Institute CEO, has written: “His (Steve Jobs) petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism. One of the last times I saw him after I had finished writing most of the book, I asked him again about his tendency to be rough on people.” “Look at the results,” he replied. “These are all smart people I work with, and any of them could get a top job at another place if they were truly feeling brutalized. But they don’t.” Then he paused for a few moments and said, almost wistfully, “And we got some amazing things done.”
We cannot agree anymore. After Steve Jobs made a comeback to Apple, he realized that there was no focus. The company was building random computers, peripherals, and different versions of Macintosh. It’s then when Steve intervened to simplify things, asked his team to focus on four great products in the categories “Consumer,” “Pro,” “Desktop,” and “Portable.” and here we are witnessing the glory of his vision. Steve continuously sieved distractions. His zen-like focus brought a revolution to the music industry with an entire Apple ecosystem. Consumers went crazy about the iPod connected to the iTunes Store that made things simple and allowed them to experience music better than any other device.
In “A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs” published in The New York Times, Mona Simpson wrote: “He (Steve Jobs) was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn’t ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn’t have to be. When he got kicked out of Apple, things were painful. He told me about a dinner at which 500 Silicon Valley leaders met the then-sitting president. Steve hadn’t been invited. He was hurt but he still went to work at Next. Every single day. Uninvited to the ball, he drove the third or fourth iteration of his same black sports car to Next, where he and his team were quietly inventing the platform on which Tim Berners-Lee would write the program for the World Wide Web.”
In his commencement speech at the Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs quoted, “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish.” This statement first appeared in the Whole Earth magazine in 1974 but caught attention after the famous business magnate inspired people not to feel content with what they have, as there is always more to learn and achieve. To Steve Jobs, “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” refers back to the American dream of entrepreneurship and being willing to try new things and innovate without letting failure or other people’s dogma get in the way. Steve Jobs used this principle in his early as well as late days at Apple to create some of the most innovative products we’ve ever seen.
In his interview on the Armchair Expert podcast, Bill Gates exclaimed: “So that period between when he (Steve Jobs) goes back to Apple and when he sadly dies quite young, no one else can do what he did there. I couldn’t have done that. I don’t know anyone who could have.” Steve Jobs died young, surrounded by family and loyal followers. Even today, Apple has a dedicated page on their website titled “Remembering Steve” where over a million people from all over the world have shared their memories, thoughts, and feelings about Jobs and continue to do so.
Elon Musk is described as many as a business magnate, industrial designer, engineer, and philanthropist, all of which are true. He is the co-founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity, and the founder of SpaceX. Born in 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk says he had a terrible upbringing, but that did not stop him from dreaming about inventions and graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees in economics and physics.
In May 2012, Musk was all over the news for his company SpaceX that launched a rocket, which eventually became the first company to send the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station. Jim Cantrell, an aerospace consultant who worked with Musk for SpaceX, told Business Insider: “In the same way that Musk absorbed books, he tried doing that with other people’s expertise. It was as if he could suck the experience out of them. He truly listens to people.”
Musk brings in a good cocktail of intelligence, focus, and intensity to the table, and success follows. He puts in effort and time to learn things and does not take “no” for an answer. Not that he has not been rejected or denied, but that does not dampen his spirit or slow him down. He has proved stock analysts and investment experts wrong who once said that Tesla’s business model was unsustainable. Not only has Tesla generated profits in some quarters but continues to build some remarkable inventions.
Musk seemingly loves to be in controversies, especially on Twitter. His tweets have been equally dangerous to him and the shareholders of his companies. One of his latest tweets, “Tesla stock price is too high,” swept off $14 billion from the company. Another Tweet that made history is “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured” that followed a lawsuit from the SEC, and Elon had to step down as the chairman of Tesla besides paying a $20 million fine.
Musk is bold, courageous, and not afraid of failures. He believes that failure is a critical path to success. According to him, one must accept constructive criticism, especially if it comes from friends, as they know what is wrong. He says, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” He tackles obstacles head-on and continually strives for better. His involvement in automation, telecommunications, and energy projects focused on inventions and global problems speak volumes about his impactful leadership.
For the reasons above, Elon has not been a favorite with everyone, but he has a loyal following who dearly loves him for what he is and let us not forget the fantastic achievements he has gifted to the world. In the book: “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” Ashlee Vance has captured anecdotes and quotes, one of which is by Justine Musk, Elon’s ex-wife, where she says, “I do think of him as the Terminator. He locks his gaze on to something and says, ‘It shall be mine.’ Bit by bit, he won me over.”