The supply chain legacy of Steve Jobs

- October 7, 2011 4:58 AM
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Death is almost always sad, and more so when it is at a relatively young age. Is it particularly affecting when it is someone who has achieved as much as Steve Jobs? I’m not sure – on reflection, perhaps we should feel more sadness for those who live longer and achieve less, rather than for those like Jobs who have lived incredibly full and supremely successful lives.

Anyway, even for those of us who aren’t Apple groupies (unlike my business partner, Mr Busch), it feels like we’ve lost one of the greatest figures of my generation. And while I’m not a Mac, iPhone or iPad user, the iPod is a wonderful object and one of the very “best things” I’ve ever owned.

His impact has been huge in the business world, but if you measure him by the effect he had on billions of people, his influence was even more immense. Turning boring technology items into fashionable, covetable, items that users literally fall in love with, and building one of the half dozen biggest and most successful companies in the world, from nothing.. that’s pretty damn impressive. Never mind Pixar, one of the most innovative, successful and game-changing media firms in history.

The impact Apple has had on procurement and supply chain thinking and practice is perhaps less clear. Jason has written about some of the issues around corporate social responsibility (for example, here); although I must say I wonder whether it is Apple’s size and visibility that makes them a target for this sort of investigation (but that’s not to say we shouldn’t hold them, and others, to high ethical standards).

Apple has certainly shown that you can successfully manage a complex offshore supply chain, even where there are huge issues around confidentiality for instance, and they’ve shown an impressive ability to plan and scale production when required.

They regularly come top in the Gartner / AMR Supply Chain survey – but just as their name and size draws attention to their CSR record, I wonder whether this really reflects greater capability, or whether it is inevitable that the Gartner methodology – hard metrics and peer survey – is almost guaranteed to come to the answer that Apple are number 1?  Is it a case of, “Apple are ridiculously successful overall, therefore they must be the best at Supply Chain management”.

We can’t know for sure. But what we can say, without any doubt, is that Apple under Jobs brought together technological innovation, product design genius, and marketing excellence in a unique and uniquely successful way.  Their procurement and supply chain activities have certainly supported that effectively, even if they weren’t the causal factor behind his huge success and influence.

Anyway, rest in peace, Steve Jobs. And here’s one of those strokes of marketing genius, courtesy of Apple and thier agency, TBWACHIATDAY.

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