In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
I was an English teacher for five years before coming to the Fool. In that time, my students came to appreciate this quote more than any other (impressive considering they originally found it, not me!). As part of their final, they had to translate the quote into their own words. The most popular answer read something like this:
"Life's greatest tragedies often teach us our most important lessons."
What in the world does this have to do with Steve Jobs?
I'll get to that in the moment, but there's a back story that needs to be tackled first.
While you can go back and read the story to get a more complete picture, the shorter version goes like this: Author Jim Collins, in his managerial best-seller Good to Great, investigated characteristics of great companies and their CEOs. He spent a great deal of time differentiating between what he called "Level 4" and "Level 5" leaders.
The basic difference between these two is that while both have overwhelming success when at the helm of their companies, Level 4 leaders do not set their organizations up for success after they leave, while Level 5 leaders do.
In my previous piece, I pointed to Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-B ) Warren Buffett and Nucor's (NYSE: NUE ) Dan DiMicco as textbook examples of Level 5 leaders. They give autonomy and praise to those around them, and are focused on building institutional greatness that will last years beyond their time at the helm.
I ended my article by sitting on the fence when it came to Jobs, essentially saying that he was a "Level 4.5" leader.
An interesting twist
In a fascinating piece hot off of the presses from Fortune magazine, Adam Lashinsky takes an interesting look at the inner-world of Apple. Though the piece covered Apple as a whole, it was a tiny section at the end of the article that really caught my eye.
In it, Lashinsky states that for a long time, Jobs couldn't have cared less about the HR department at Apple. But after his second medical leave three years ago, it suddenly became a top priority.
Unbeknownst to many, Jobs hired Joel Podolny, dean of the Yale School of Management, to start what was dubbed Apple University. The goal of the university: to institutionalize the DNA that has led to Apple's greatness. Courses are taught based on case studies from how key decisions have been made during Jobs' tenure.
Life after Steve
Now, some may argue that this move is wildly selfish -- simply indicating that Jobs wants to continue micromanaging long after his time at Apple has passed. Those critics may be right, but then again, what's so wrong with that? Jobs has done one heckuva job.
And the company is going to need to fend off competition from the likes of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) , Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) , Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , and a host of others after he's left the scene.
Personally, I don't take the cynical view that Apple University is simply an exercise in vanity. Instead, I think that it's an indication of something bigger. Apple University, and the heavy-hitter Jobs hired to run it, is evidence of a transformation from Level 4 to Level 5 leader for Jobs.
Which brings me back to that quote ...
Though I've never met the man, it seems rather unanimous that Steve Jobs is a pain in the butt to work for. The fact that he wasn't too concerned with talent development until three years ago shows that the company would have been in dire straits had he been hit by a bus back then.
And while it's absolutely tragic that a man at Jobs' age is faced so directly with his own mortality, the situation appears to be changing his approach.
Jobs' realization of his own mortality has spurred him to ensure that the greatness he helped create at Apple will outlive him. For his employees, customers, shareholders -- and even his legacy -- that holds the promise for even brighter tomorrows.
Whether Apple University ends up tipping the scales in Apple's favor moving forward is yet to be seen. In the mean time (as a shareholder), I'm glad it's there.
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