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Donald Trump vs. Steve Jobs: The tale of two con artists

Rob Enderle | March 7, 2016
Donald Trump and Steve Jobs understand that reality doesn’t matter. It’s what people believe that matters. However, columnist Rob Enderle writes it’s not just about convincing folks you will be successful in a turnaround, it’s about doing whatever is needed to assure success. Only one of these guys got that right.

But here’s the catch: What made Jobs successful was that eventually NeXT did work, and the iPhone was good enough when it launched. Oh, and he eventually fixed Apple’s products so they fulfilled Jobs initial false statements. So the difference between someone with this skill that is successful and someone with the skill that ends up in jail is that before the lie is fully discovered they execute so the lie becomes the truth, or close enough.

Jobs and Trump: The differences

What is different between Jobs and Trump? Jobs used these same skills to craft a persona that was very different than he actually was.   For those that knew him well, Jobs was a lot like Trump appears to be. Very vindictive, a nasty temper and had a pronounced inferiority complex (which likely caused the first two behavioral problems). But his created persona was polished, confident, even friendly and professionally crafted. Trump, like a lot of people in power, feels he can be more like he is and that means he doesn’t look presidential. This is one of two problems he has.

The other one is execution. Jobs kept things simple and manageable so that he could better assure his success. Trump tends to overreach and a number of efforts connected to his brand have failed as a result. The Trump University is likely the biggest example and even though I started by saying these folks lead with a lie, I also pointed out that success comes from making sure the lie goes away before anyone significant is hurt by it. People have to believe, but they won’t if they actually see the CEO as a con artist.  

The key to successful turnarounds

The key in doing a successful turnaround is that stakeholders (investors, employees and customers) have to believe you will be successful first. If they don’t believe they won’t invest, they won’t put in the extra work and they won’t buy your products. You have to create a vision, Jobs created a vision of a successful Apple nearly half a decade before Apple was truly successful and, through incredible execution, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Gerstner, at IBM, hired the best marketing/advertising people he could find and did some rather impressive things like take ownership of ecommerce years before IBM even had a solution. In addition, when he started, like Jobs, a lot of IBM products where crap but, in both cases, the CEOs prioritized making the company execute eventually to the vision.

I think one of the two the reasons we don’t see this more often is that first there are a lot of engineer CEOs in the tech market and they fundamentally don’t get the whole “perception” thing.   The other is that while the chance of failure goes down, the risk failure goes up significantly because, if the fraud is discovered and the CEO fails, there actually could be criminal repercussions (though this very rarely happens). So it takes a special kind of person that is willing to take this huge risk and, I often think, that this risk becomes a massive motivator when it comes to success. Failure actually is no longer an option and for a lot of failed CEOs I think they factor in failure as a likely outcome.  

 

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