Steve Jobs=Leader. We Need More

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Among the pre-obituary tributes to
Steve Jobs — a month ago when he resigned as Apple
CEO and we all knew that the end was near — one
memorable homage quoted him as saying that he saw
his own role as “leader.” Not a manager or chief executive,
but “leader” — a term that is bandied around
all too frequently in the media-telecom-political-tech
world, but is rarely applied accurately.

The Apple co-founder, who died at 56 on Oct. 5 after
a long bout with cancer, was a tough, opinionated decision-
maker. He was an inspiration to many. He was
not merely focused on the next financial quarter — he
was a visionary who was comfortable committing to a
long view.

For many years, I’ve lamented the disappearance of
iconic “leaders” in the media and telecom industries.
Not that we need too many Murdochs, who are household names.
But it was grand when the industry had “Malone” and “Turner” to
inspire (or instill fear) — and to let the world know what was coming
next in cable. No individual should or can speak for the whole
industry (OK, maybe the lobbyists think they can do that). But true
leaders’ visions can build great enterprises, and they put a face to
those ventures.

The entertainment/communications/information sector
was built on names who epitomized their companies
and the businesses they were in: Hearst, Pulitzer, Luce,
Sarnoff , Paley, Bell, Fox, Zanuck and the brothers Warner.
Customers knew who those figures were in an era that
didn’t have today’s business and social coverage.

These leaders were familiar “brands.” Customers knew
what they were getting — like it or not — from those tycoons’

Most important, those leaders (or their promoters)
created a legendary presence for themselves and their
products. So did Steve Jobs.

Jobs never paid much attention to the cable industry.
There was once an Apple cable set-top box prototype,
which may have been Jobs’ experiment in feeling out the
cable industry and then leading his company elsewhere.
Does anyone think that if Apple had actually produced an set-top,
it would be co-branded or that customers would think of it as device
from their faceless MSO?

A lot is written about business and political leadership these
days. I’ll remember Steve Jobs as the leading representative in a
world that needs more true leaders who earn public respect for what
they accomplish and what they envision.