A Great Visionary, but Steve Jobs Was No Saint

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Ben Cohen
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Steve Jobs for Fortune magazine

It is entirely normal to mythologize people after they are gone - prominent and effective leaders are often cannonized in the media, their virtues given priority in accounts of their lives and their flaws relegated to background noise.

Steve Jobs, a truly visionary figure who radically shaped the course of several industries, has been the beneficiary of similar treatment. Jobs was a complicated and brilliant man, and while his genius may have inspired millions and made the world a more interesting place to live, there is another story that also needs telling, a darker tale of ego, cruelty and corporate abuse that should not be brushed aside when evaluating his life. From Gawker:

Apple's factories in China have regularly employed young teenagers and people below the legal work age of 16, made people work grueling hours, and have tried to cover all this up. That's according to Apple's own 2010 report about its factories in China. In 2011, Apple reported that its child labor problem had worsened....

Before he was deposed from Apple the first time around, Jobs already had a reputation internally for acting like a tyrant. Jobs regularly belittled people, swore at them, and pressured them until they reached their breaking point. In the pursuit of greatness he cast aside politeness and empathy. His verbal abuse never stopped. Just last month Fortune reported about a half-hour "public humiliation" Jobs doled out to one Apple team:

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?"

"You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he told them. "You should hate each other for having let each other down."

Jobs ended by replacing the head of the group, on the spot.

They say you must break a few eggs to make an omlette, and there is no doubt that Job's astonishing achievements could not have happened without some collateral damage.

But those he stepped on to get ahead are human beings with lives just as important as his. It is a sad trait in modern American culture that success and fame are valued above all others. If decency and humility were given precedence over an ability to make money, it is unlikely anyone would know who Steve Jobs was at all.

Jobs was most certainly an inspiring leader and a testament to creative thinking and innovation. But a great man? That's not quite as clear.

Image by tsevis via Flickr

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