Glenn, Kodak and Steve JobsPublished 11:06pm Wednesday, February 22, 2012
It’s been 50 years since the first news event I remember, even before John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
On Feb. 20, 1962, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, I was in Mrs. Hunsberger’s afternoon kindergarten at Patrick Hamilton Elementary School.
We followed this momentous three-orbit, five-hour mission with great excitement.
Years later at the Smithsonian I saw Glenn’s Friendship 7 (named by his two children) Mercury capsule, so small it looked like one of us kindergarteners should have switched places with him.
Glenn, who rode his heroism in that tin can to an Ohio Senate seat, is 90 now. Besides the requisite parade and medal because of the space race with Russia, he’s such an old-school Marine, he’s had the same wife all this time.
I loved that he told Annie he was going out for a pack of gum, as he did every time he flew a mission as a fighter pilot.
For my eighth birthday, my grandparents in Cassopolis gave me a Kodak Instamatic camera. It’s more a mournful moment to think that the Google of its day ended in Chapter 11 while Japanese rival Fujifilm thrived.
George Eastman founded the company which defined the photo industry in 1888.
Ironically, Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975, the year I graduated from high school.
Executives anticipated digital photography overtaking film, but didn’t focus on the future until competitors crowded the marketplace.
“Even the most technologically innovative companies need to have farsighted management,” The Boston Globe opined.
So in that regard, Kodak’s insistence on perfect products brings to mind Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
I just finished his 630-page biography by Walter Isaacson, former Time magazine managing editor. It was a Christmas present from another industrial designer, my daughter, Savannah, studying in Cleveland.
Jobs’ well-earned reputation as a jerk should not overshadow the legacy that should be required reading for MBAs. He took full responsibility for products from beginning to end and put them before return on investment. No captive to focus groups or bean counters, Jobs stressed innovation over the bottom line as he relentlessly executed his vision and passion for building an enduring company of people driven by desire to make good products.
“Sure, it was great to make a profit,” he said, “because that was what allowed you to make great products.”
His entrepreneurial zeal kept Apple investing in research and development when the dot com bubble burst and the rest of Silicon Valley shut down the spending spigot, enabling Jobs to engineer the corporate turnaround of the century.
The recession gave birth to iPods, iTunes and Apple stores that transformed it into the world’s most valuable company.
Something to think about with $2 trillion worth of cash parked on corporate balance sheets and few CEOs with Jobs’ bravado.
Business has been dominated by hyperefficiency rather than real growth born out of innovation.