Lasting companies know how to re-invent themselves

Mike Markkula, right, Apple's first investor and father figure to Jobs. Fired by Jobs in 1997 his parting advice called for re-invention.

Like everyone else in America who still reads I am deeply engrossed in Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs.

It’s a remarkably honest and thorough account. It introduces us to Steve’s early influences. It explains the genesis of his design obsession. It reveals his many flaws.

While the entire book chronicles the story of Steve’s life from childhood to the end, every chapter is a story in its own right. You probably have your favorite. The lost battle with John Sculley. The launch of Macintosh. The board trying to kill the best ever Super Bowl spot. (They failed because Chiat Day secretly refused to sell off the media.) Jobs’ questionably hesitant but triumphant return. The complex rivalry between Jobs and his sometimes nemesis, sometimes friend, one time savior Bill Gates. Or on another front, the confrontations with Michael Eisner that prompted Disney to back off its ill-advised attempt to re-write Toy Story.

Readers can cull endless lessons from these stories: how to simplify, how to believe in an idea, how to adhere to standards, how to trust your intuition, how not to back down. In some cases – personal hygiene, treatment of friends and family – we can also learn what not to do.

But one of my favorite lessons doesn’t come from Steve. It’s attributed to Mike Markkula. Upon his official return to Apple in 1997, Jobs fired Markkula from the board and then asked Mike to join him on one of his long walks. Jobs told the former chairman that his goal was to build a company that would endure. He asked Markkula’s advice. Markkula shared this.

“Lasting companies know how to re-invent themselves. Hewlett-Packard had done that repeatedly; it started as an instrument company, then a computer company. Apple has been sideline by Microsoft in the PC business. (by then Apple’s market share had plummeted from 16 percent to four percent). You’ve got to reinvent the company to do some other thing, like consumer products or devices. You’ve got to be like a butterfly and have a metamorphosis.”*

The language and the metaphor may not sound brilliant. But you sure can’t argue with the advice. According to Isaacson, Jobs didn’t say much that day in 1997, but clearly he agreed.

Lasting companies know how to re-invent themselves. I think the same might even be said for individuals.

Got a favorite story from the book of Jobs? Please share. And as always, thanks for stopping by.

Photo “borrowed” from Christopher Dernbach’s blog Mac History.


*Excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, page 320.


This will serve as an inspiration to everyone...

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Love love love this book. More value than most MBA programs. The ting that hit me hardest were the first words of the first chapter, "Abandoned, and Chosen." I felt the lingering echos of those two experiences right up to the end of this book, where the insight about Jobs' family life and marriage really completed the picture for me. A must read, no question.

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edwardboches moderator

@miketrap Every chapter a new lesson in something. Standards, decision making, leveraging the competition, understanding the creative process, hiring good people, continually growing as a manager, being insane, taking risks.


I am amazed with what Markkula have shared. I can apply it on myself that having a lasting company knows how to re-invent! This is so challenging that hope business owners will be inspired.

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JeffShattuck 1 Like

I'd have to go back through my dog-eared pages to find my absolute favorite story, but since I don't have the book with me right now I'll work with the first thing that comes to mind: Steve Jobs making Larry Ellison watch dailies of Toy Story. I love that! I also find it fascinating that Jobs and Ellison are friends. I've known this for a bit, but the book shed more light on how close they were. Fun fact: a campaign I worked on for Oracle died because Ellison showed it to Jobs who didn't like it. I could't admit it at the time, but I agreed with Jobs!

edwardboches moderator

@JeffShattuck That's a great story. The one about your campaign dying. Thanks for sharing it here.

michaelcalienes 1 Like

Certainly great advice by Markkula, but it also took the Jobs' unflinching fearlessness to willingly and continually disrupt "who we are now" for the promise of "what we could / should become." Jobs' ability to bet everything on his gut was awe-inspiring. When Ive and his team came up with four new colors to compliment the Bondi Blue offering, for example, Jobs got excited and told the execs they'd be going ahead with that. "In most places that decision would have taken months," Ive recalled. "Steve did it in a half hour."