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Five lessons for success from tech giants Microsoft, Intel and Apple

Aug 03. 2015
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IF YOU were to name the business gurus who embodied true success in our day and age, the names of Bill Gates, Andy Grove and Steve Jobs would instantly come up, David Yoffie, professor of International Business at Harvard Business School, said last week d
They did not achieve their success over night, he said, but there are key similarities between their companies, Microsoft, Intel and Apple, which literally built the world in which we live today.
Yoffie was speaking on the sidelines of a dinner talk inspired by his new book, “Strategy Rules: 5 Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs”, hosted by the Harvard Business School Association of Thailand. Yoffie highlights five strategies in his book, which will be translated into Thai soon. Following the death of Apple founder Jobs in 2011, and the retirements of Gates and Grove, Yoffie embarked on the challenge of writing a book on the men who had proven that their companies could withstand the test of time. 
Look forward, reason back
Like great game theorists, these three leaders thought two or three steps ahead, creating a vision on how both the world and their businesses would evolve. They then looked at the present and strategised on what could be done to make their vision come true. 
“Many people make the mistake in strategy, in that they look at their history and say what they are going to do now,” says Yoffie. 
To prove his point, he cited the example of Microsoft founder Gates, who envisioned a world in which every notebook and desktop computer would run his Microsoft software. 
Make big bets without |betting the company 
Every leader needs to be able to take risks, but not at the cost of their whole business, said Yoffie. Intel founder Grove was a perfect example of this when, in 1985, he made an enormous bet to be the sole source of Intel microprocessors. Going against the wishes of his biggest client, IBM, Grove was confident enough to brand his product, which most computer users don’t even realise exists inside their computers. In order not to risk betting all of his company, Grove had enough discipline not invest more than his historical averages on capital expenditures relative to sales, which paid off in the end. 
Build platforms and ecosystems – not just products 
“Ultimately, most companies that win are companies that have a platform,” says Yoffie. A company cannot exist only on its own island, it must take advantage of and integrate the ecosystem around them. Jobs, Grove and Gates achieved this and their ecosystems have lasted long after they left the stage and are now an integral part of our world. Yoffie said this was a hard lesson for Jobs, who had to be persuaded by his team to allow iTunes to be accessed through non-Apple devices when the iPod first came out, at a time when Apple represented only 3 per cent of the world’s computers. According to Yoffie, if he had not given in, Apple would not be the company it is today. 
Exploit leverage and power |– Play judo and sumo
“You have to be a great tactician,” says Yoffie, meaning that a successful businessperson must understand how to manage micro activities in order to make the right move to go against their competitors. In Judo and Sumo wrestling, for example, one must learn how to use the opponent’s strengths against them. Yoffie said Jobs was the master of this skill when he convinced music labels to give him their music, saying Apple posed no threat at the time as it controlled only 3 per cent of the world’s computer devices. Little did they know that they would live to regret their decision, Yoffie says. 
Shape the organisation around your personal anchor
“Know your unique strengths and how to leverage the things you are not so good at,” says Yoffie. The classic mistake that entrepreneurs make, according to him, is thinking they can do everything when they cannot. Jobs tried to do this with Apple at the start. After his failure, he returned to the company and made sure he got experts such as Tim Cook to take care of things like manufacturing, supply chains and sales, while he focused on his strengths. 
Advice for start-ups 
One of the book’s fans is Fred Mouawad, chairman and CEO of Synergia One Group of Companies, who was ranked by Wealth-X in 2013 as the world’s eighth-richest diamond owner with a net worth of US$1.1 billion (Bt38.5 billion). Mouawad, better known in Thailand as the founder of Coffee World and Cream and Fudge, said he was amazed that Jobs, Grove and Gates did not have any formal business training, but learned while managing their organisations. Mouawad advises anyone wishing to start their own business that it is not about the size of the business, but about experience and knowledge. He said the key is to realise that there are gaps in your knowledge and that you need to step outside your boundaries to seek more information through either seminars or holding discussions with others in the business community. 
“The world is changing and one has to keep updating their knowledge.” 

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