Steve Jobs is Fortune‘s “CEO of the Decade.” As my colleague Adam Lashinsky says in the current issue’s cover story, Jobs has created more than $150 billion in shareholder wealth–meanwhile, “transforming movies, telecom, music, and computing, and profoundly influencing the worlds of retail and design.”
I’ve met Jobs just once, three years ago, when he came to Fortune‘s offices here in New York. I remember, he walked into our conference room in his uniform–the black turtleneck, the jeans, the sneakers–and sat down beside me. What could be cooler? For 90 minutes, he demoed a sleek little gadget that was weeks away from launch. Even the most jaded journalists were dazzled. It was the iPhone.
To help report the Jobs cover package, I walked over to Avon and interviewed Chairman and CEO Andrea Jung. She didn’t know Jobs well until early last year when he asked her to join the Apple board. Now she’s the only female director, with six guys. She’s also on the board of another famous company founded by a famous creative guy: Thomas Edison. That’s General Electric (GE). So Jung has a front-row seat to how power works, and innovation as well.
Here’s Jung’s first-person take on Jobs.–Patricia Sellers
Steve called me one day two years ago and said, “I’m in the city, Can I come up to your office?” He sauntered in, wearing his black turtleneck, jeans and sneakers. He showed me the new shuffle. We had had some conversations before. I was a huge admirer of the company. There isn’t another consumer business like Apple. About six months later, I joined the Apple board.
All of us would like to think that we’re as focused on the consumer and the end-user experience as Steve is—that maniacal passion for the best phone, the best mp3 player, the best PC, the best retail experience.
Steve is singularly passionate about making products that people love and understand. He does it in a very black and white way, while the rest of the world gets caught up in the gray–or caught up in themselves. He is, on the one hand, the most simple and clear thinker. I so often think, ‘It sounds so simple.’ But he’s taking on things that are extraordinarily complex and arguably risky.
He breaks down barriers. If you have that disruptive vision, you don’t look at historical facts to make a new future.
Steve refuses to compromise on integrity or the consumer experience for the sake of commercialism. He’s laser-focused on getting it right. It’s a great lesson in this quarter-to-quarter world. I leave Apple board meetings thinking, ‘I’ve got to do a better job.’
The board is small—seven directors–smaller than most boards, including Avon’s. There is an extraordinary openness in the board room, and it’s incredibly interactive. Any board member would feel free to challenge an idea or raise a concern.
He’s a real listener and wants your opinion. He’ll call on a Sunday—like one day he called to let me know that they redid the store in Soho and wanted to know what I thought of it. My son will look at my iPhone and say, “Steve Jobs is calling!” Not many CEOs have that effect on 12-year-olds.
I’ve been really impressed by his humility—his willingness to talk about mistakes or things that need to be corrected. Or things they wish they hadn’t done. It’s been not only gratifying, it’s been great. I feel like I’m part of history being made.