Bill Gates, Elon Musk and 4 other business leaders on the best lessons they learned from Steve Jobs
Ten years ago, Steve Jobs died at age 56 after a years-long fight with cancer — an untimely death for one of tech’s most influential presences.
Collaborators and competitors alike have credited their success to the Apple co-founder, from current Apple CEO Tim Cook to Bill Gates and Elon Musk. Even some of today’s younger workers, whether software engineers or not, look to Jobs’ creativity and success for inspiration.
Here’s what six of today’s top business minds say they learned from the tech titan:
Bill Gates: He ‘mesmerized’ a crowd
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs might still be tech’s most well-known “frenemies.”
While Microsoft and Apple battled over the span of 30 years, Gates and Jobs became friends. After Jobs’ death, Gates posted on Twitter: “For those of us lucky enough to get to work with Steve, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.”
Since then, Gates has opened up about his jealousy of his self-described rival — particularly when it came to motivation and public speaking.
“He was such a wizard at over-motivating people,” Gates told the Armchair Expert podcast. “I was a minor wizard so I couldn’t fall under his spells — but I could see him casting the spells, and then I would look at people and see them mesmerized.”
In a September 2019 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Gates noted that Jobs always had a natural talent for capturing an audience, even while pitching an underwhelming product.
“Steve Jobs was always more of a natural at [public speaking],” Gates said. “He could talk about what, in the case of NeXT Computer, was not that good of a machine, yet mesmerize people to death if they happened to be in the auditorium.”
Tim Cook: ‘Your mentors may leave you prepared, but they can’t leave you ready’
Shortly before his death, Jobs handed Apple’s CEO reins to Tim Cook. But even Cook, who spent 14 years learning directly from Jobs, says he didn’t feel ready to replace his predecessor.
In a 2019 graduation address at Stanford University, Cook shared a valuable lesson from his mentor: “Fourteen years ago, Steve stood on this stage and told your predecessors: ‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.’ Here’s my corollary: ‘Your mentors may leave you prepared, but they can’t leave you ready.'”
Cook described the loneliness he felt after Jobs died, saying the experience taught him the critical distinction between being “prepared” and being “ready.” He warned the gradates that when the time came to lead, in whatever capacity, they wouldn’t be ready — and that’s OK.
“You’re not supposed to be,” Cook said. “Find the hope in the unexpected. Find the courage in the challenge. Find your vision on the solitary road.”
Meg Whitman: ‘Simple can be harder than complex’
Jobs died nine months into Meg Whitman’s seven-year tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard — but clearly left a mark on Whitman’s leadership philosophy. Less than a year later, Whitman told the Wall Street Journal that she’d be “taking a cue from Apple.”
“I don’t think we [have] kept up with the innovation,” Whitman said. “The whole market has moved to something that is more beautiful…Apple taught us that design really matters.”
Jobs’ approach to product design is arguably among his most well-known legacies. “Simple can be harder than complex,” Jobs told Business Week back in 1998. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Jony Ive: ‘Wanting to learn was far more important than wanting to be right’
At Jobs’ funeral, longtime Apple chief designer Jony Ive delivered a eulogy, referring to Jobs as “my closest and my most loyal friend.”
His greatest memory: how Jobs saw the world.
“He was without doubt the most inquisitive human I have ever met,” Ive wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. “His insatiable curiosity was not limited or distracted by his knowledge or expertise, nor was it casual or passive. It was ferocious, energetic and restless. His curiosity was practiced with intention and rigor.”
This curiosity, Ive wrote, was vital to Jobs’ success, especially because other people were often tempted to only explore what they already knew and what felt safe.
“Our curiosity begs that we learn,” said Ive. “And for Steve, wanting to learn was far more important than wanting to be right.”
Elon Musk: ‘The ability to attract and motivate great people is critical’
On Monday, Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted out a wish: the chance to speak with Jobs, just once.
At a Computer History Museum event in 2013, Musk shared that Google co-founder Larry Page once tried to introduce him to Jobs at a party, but he got the cold shoulder.
“I did try to talk to him once at a party and he was super rude to me,” Musk joked. “But I don’t think it was me, I think it was par for the course.”
Musk, who is sometimes compared to Jobs for his moonshot visions of the future, said in a 2018 interview with Autobild.tv that he long admired Jobs. His ability to grow Apple by attracting top talent and earn employee loyalty is something Musk said he tries to do at Tesla.
“The ability to attract and motivate great people is critical to the success of a company, because a company is just a group of people that are assembled to create a product or service,” Musk explained, noting that people sometimes forget this “elementary truth” of business.
Bob Iger: ‘It’s hard to imagine a better salesman’
In 2006, Jobs sold animation studio Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion — a deal that then-CEO Bob Iger said “saved” Disney.
Iger and Jobs already knew each other, according to Fortune. In 2005, when Iger learned he’d gotten Disney’s top job, he called a handful of people to share the news: his family, his former boss and Steve Jobs.
“Steve Jobs was an extraordinary visionary, our very dear friend and the guiding light of the Pixar family,” Iger said in a 2011 statement after Jobs death. “He saw the potential of what Pixar could be before the rest of us, and beyond what anyone ever imagined.”
In a 2019 Vanity Fair article, Iger remembered watching Jobs make the pitch to Disney’s board for the acquisition of Pixar.
“It’s hard to imagine a better salesman for something this ambitious,” Iger said. “He talked about the need for big companies to take big risks. He talked about where Disney had been and what it needed to do to radically change course. […] For the first time, watching him speak, I felt optimistic that it might happen.”
On Tuesday, Iger remembered the persuasive and creative force of his long time friend, writing: “The passage of time, no matter how short or long, does not dim our sense of loss or sadness and void created when we lost a dear friend and colleague, and such a powerful source of imagination, invention, curiosity, and vision.”