01 November 2011

Steve Jobs and Buzz Lightyear--BFF

Our grandsons visited some time ago when the youngest of two brothers, Brody Schriver, had a strong attachment to Buzz Lightyear, one of the characters from the Pixar movie, Toy Story.  

We took the boys to lunch one day and upon arriving home, discovered Buzz was missing. 

Unable to deal with the heartbreak I went back to the restaurant to see if, by chance, Buzz was still there.  The staff at the restaurant went so far as to move the booth where we were seated an hour or so earlier just to be sure the toy wasn't lodged between the seat and the wall.  

Another search of the car came up empty as well.

Rather than face a tearful grandson with empty hands, I stopped by a store and purchased a second Buzz Lightyear because that's what grandfathers do. (As it turned out the first Buzz was on the back porch all along).

This incident came to mind while reading backstories to the life of Steve Jobs, including successes at critical moments allowing him to keep going with his creative pursuits.   

What does this have to do with Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and the other characters in Toy Story?  While Apple and NeXT get a lot of attention, Pixar Animation, purchased by Jobs in 1986, put new life into this American icon.

As recounted by Lev Grossman in TIME, Steve Jobs netted almost $260 million when Apple went public in 1980.  However, that financial success was followed by nearly 18 years without producing a successful product.  

"It was Buzz Lightyear who saved Jobs' career: after eating money for a decade, Pixar finally produced Toy Story in 1995.  It took in $30 million on its first weekend, and a week later Pixar went public. Jobs' shares were worth $1.2 billion," according to Grossman.

Almost 60 years earlier Walt Disney was looking to expand beyond short subjects to features.  Walt made a big bet on his company's future taking three years to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which premiered in 1937.  

Sometimes referred to as "Disney's Folly," Snow White cost approximately $1.5 million forcing Walt Disney to mortgage his house to finance the film's production.

In its original release, Snow White grossed $3.5 million in the United States and Canada.  Walt Disney received a full-size Oscar and seven miniature ones presented to him by Shirley Temple at the Academy Awards.  This was a huge success making it possible for Disney studios to move into a higher realm of creativity and production. 

There are numerous articles comparing Steve Jobs to Thomas Edison and other inventors.  A better comparison might be with Walt Disney.  Both found a way to combine consistent quality with innovation in order to make their products stand out from the competition. 

It's fitting that Jobs, upon completion of the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar by Walt Disney Company in 2006, would join the company's board of directors and become Disney's largest shareholder.   

What are the lessons to take away from the life and career of Steve Jobs?

What does a wider audience learn in his death that it couldn't know, by design, in his life?  I am thinking now about his family; growing into the role of a corporate leader; his mercurial management style; all the people decisions; the failures and rejections; and a sense of mortality. 

What could you "Apple-ize" (simplify) about your life and business?

What was the driving force for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad? 

What's at the heart of Pixar's success? Maybe creativity and desperation.  

What causes our grandchildren (and yours) to make an emotional connection with a character like Buzz Lightyear?  The answer to that last question is simple. It's because Steve Jobs, like Walt Disney, knew young minds (like older ones) are wired for a good story.

(C)  Bredholt & Co.