This week the world lost a business and technology giant with the passing of the iconic Steve Jobs, for many years the leader of the Apple organization. Steve Jobs’ name will forever be associated with launch of the iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iTouch and iPad, that helped propel Apple to the status of second most valuable company in the world. In the coming days, there will be many books written about this remarkable individual and the leadership skills that he displayed. Here is my take on a few of his unique leadership skills and some of the lessons that trucking company executives should learn from him.
Steve had vision. He understood customer needs and was able to envision innovative methods of meeting these needs. While other company experimented with music downloads and tablet computers, they were not able to create products that were useful to large groups of customers and commercialize them for widespread sale. He was able to assemble a team of talented individuals and mobilize them to execute his vision. Steve could see the finish line and he was able to take Apple there.
One of the driving forces that made Steve and Apple so successful was a single-minded focus on providing customers with a superior, easy to use product or service. Apple designed products with the customer in mind. Every feature was planned to create an exceptional user experience. Apple didn’t just build a customer base; they created fanatical, adoring fans. Steve would not allow a new product or service to be introduced until it met his exacting standards.
Steve also saw how important it was to create synergy between his products and services. The value of an iPod or IPad is the ability to easily download music or videos from the iTunes store. He also saw the value in linking to services of other companies. The thousands of applications designed by other companies, at their expense, to work on Apple’s products, make Apple products so much more useful. Collaboration with business partners, while taking a sizeable cut of their revenues, is smart business.
So many trucking companies are internally focused. They think about balancing lanes and truck utilization. They believe that by measuring and tracking on-time service and billing accuracy, they are meeting the needs of their customers.
While these metrics are important, so many carriers overlook the obvious. Are they creating a superior customer experience? Do they provide the portfolio of services that shippers require? While they may supply a consistent over the road or intermodal service from Central Canada to Western Canada, they break down when the shipper asks for the full range of services, all picked up on the same truck and all delivered on the same truck at destination.. They provide multi divisional representation when the shipper wants one knowledgeable resource to look after his full range of requirements. Their internal silos make their companies difficult to work with. They lose sight of the fact that ease to use is a key to success.
We live in an era when shippers want “one stop shopping”. They want to work with transportation services providers that are “go to” companies for a full range of transportation and logistics needs. Being able to meet this requirement has been one of the key reasons why so many logistics companies have “picked the pockets” of asset based companies. Able to adapt to a changing market, logistics service providers have shown rapid growth by mixing and matching services to meet customer needs, to do essentially what Steve Job has done in personal communication.
Steve was an excellent communicator and sales person. He became famous for standing in front of an audience in his trademark jeans and black turtleneck to present the latest Apple new product or upgrade. While not a singer or dancer, his presentations were as popular as those of leading rock stars. He was the face of is company. He led by example.
In too many trucking companies, the leader hides in his office. When it comes time to land a big account (or salvage an existing one), the leader is not present. By not being in the market on a regular basis, they don’t have a first-hand understanding of customer needs. They don’t receive unfiltered input on what is required to provide their customers with a superior service. They are not able to elevate their companies’ services from commodity to preferred status. They continue to strive for “me too” status. They are not able to create the market breakthroughs that produce superior profits.
One of the unique aspects of Steve’s pricing strategy was that he charged a premium price for his company’s products and services and he got it. While there are other full featured smartphones and tablets on the market, consumers are willing to pay the higher price commanded by Apple’s products. So many industry giants, with Research in Motion being the latest example, have been overtaken by Apple’s superior attention to detail and superior customer focus. The RIM Playbook has not been able to compete with the iPad.
Some may argue that Steve Job’s success was attributable to being in the right place at the right time, to focusing on personal communication devices, at a time when that market was ripe for innovation. While that may be true, the same sort of success has been achieved in other sectors by following the principles of Steve Jobs. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for Lululemon clothes or a Mercedes car or excellent real estate or expedited transportation service, if the value proposition is there. Hopefully some trucking company executives will learn a few lessons from Steve Jobs and take their companies to a higher plateau.