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IIBMS – Profiles of Two Visionaries—Bill Gates & Steve Jobs

CASE: 4   Profiles of Two Visionaries—Bill Gates & Steve Jobs


IIBMS – Profiles of Two Visionaries—Bill Gates & Steve Jobs

Two men have their hearts and souls for developing their visions have driven the personal computer revolution. However, the way in which each of these men went about this quest has been different. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have changed the way the world does business, but the story of their leadership styles is even more compelling than the success spawned Apple and Microsoft.

Gates and Jobs: The Early Years  Bill Gates started developing his computer skills with his childhood friend Paul Allen at Lakeside School in Seattle. At the age of 14, the two had formed their first computer company. After high school, Allen and Gates left Seattle for Boston. Gates was off to Harvard and Allen began working for Honeywell. After only two years at Harvard, Gates and Allen left Boston for Albuquerque to develop a computer language for the new Altair 8080 personal computer. This computer language would become BASIC and was the foundation for Microsoft, which was created as a partnership in 1975.

After five years in New Mexico, Microsoft relocated to Bellevue, Washington in 1980 with BASIC and two other computer languages (COBOL and FORTRAN) in its arsenal. Later that year IBM began developing its first PC and was in need of an operating system. Microsoft developed the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) for IBM while two other companies created competing systems. Gates’ determination and persuasion of other software firms to develop programs for MS-DOS made it the default IBM platform.

As Microsoft became more successful, Gates realized that he needed help managing Microsoft. His enthusiasm, vision, and hard work were the driving force behind the company’s growth, but he recognized the need for professional management. Gates brought in another one of his friends from Harvard, Steve Ballmer. Ballmer had worked for Proctor & Gamble after graduating from Harvard and was pursuing his MBA at Stanford University. Gates persuaded Ballmer to leave school and join Microsoft. Over the years, Ballmer has become an indispensable asset to both Gates and Microsoft. In 1983, Gates continued to show his brilliance by hiring Jon Shirley who brought order to Microsoft and streamlined the organizational structure, while Ballmer served as an advisor and sounding board for Gates. Microsoft continued to grow and prosper in the 1990s and Gates became the richest man in the world with Microsoft dominating the operating systems market and the office suite software market with Microsoft Office.

Gates recognized that his role was to be the visionary of the company, but that he needed professional managers to run the operations of Microsoft. He combined his unyielding determination and passion with a well-structured management team to make Microsoft the giant it is today.

The other visionary, Steve Jobs, and his friend Steve Wosniak started Apple Computer in Job’s garage in Los Altos, California in 1976. In contrast to Bill Gates, Jobs and Wosniak were hardware experts and started with the vision for a personal computer that was affordable and easy to use. When Microsoft offered BASIC to Apple, Jobs immediately dismissed the idea on the basis that he and Wosniak could create their own version of BASIC in a weekend. This was typical Jobs: decisive and almost maniacal at times. However, Jobs eventually agreed to license Microsoft’s BASIC while pursuing his vision of developing a more usable and friendly interface for the PC.

Jobs, seen by some as the anti-Gates, is a trailblazer and a creator as opposed to Gates who is more of a consolidator of industry standards. Jobs, whose goal was to change the world with his computers, was very demanding of his employees. Jobs was not a hard-core computer programmer, but he sold the idea of the personal computer to the public. He changed the direction of Apple by developing the Macintosh (Mac) that used a new Graphical User Interface (GUI) that introduced the world to the mouse and on-screen icons. With all this success, there was a major problem developing at Apple: Steve Jobs was overconfident and did not see Gates and Microsoft as a serious threat to Apple.

Soon after the release of the Macintosh computer, Jobs asked Microsoft to develop software for the Mac operating system. Gates obliged and proceeded to launch a project copying and improving Apple’s user interface. The result of this venture was what became Microsoft Windows.

Jobs’ cocky attitude and the lack of management skills contributed to Apple’s problems. He never bothered to develop budgets and neglected his relationship with his employees. Wosniak left Apple due to differences with Jobs. In 1985, John Scully, formerly CEO of PepsiCo, was hired to replace Steve Jobs as president and CEO of Apple Computers. Differences between Scully and Jobs developed which eventually resulted in the dismissal of Jobs.

Microsoft and Apple at the turn of the Century: An Industry Giant and a Revitalized Leader      With the success of Windows, the Office application suite, the Internet Explorer, Microsoft has become a household name and Bill Gates has been hailed as a business genius. The fact that Microsoft’s competitors, the press, and the US Justice Department have called Microsoft a monopoly reinforces Gates’s determination to succeed. Some people even questioned whether Microsoft can survive the Justice Department’s decision. But Bill Gates has shown that he is the master of adapting to changing market conditions and technologies.

In the 1990s, Apple went in the opposite direction. The outdated operating system and falling market share eventually led to a decrease in software development for the Mac. Something needed to be done. In 1998 Steve Jobs returned to Apple as the “interim” CEO. His vision, once again, resulted in an innovative product: the iMac. In the 80s he created the simple-to-operate Macintosh to attract people who were using IBM PCs and their clones. Now he developed a simple, stylish, and Internet-friendly computer that added some much-needed excitement to the computer market. Jobs had also changed as a manager and a leader. He had matured and looked to his professional staff for advice and ideas. The Mac is an expression of his creativity and Apple as a whole is an expression of Steve, leading to continuing the success for Apple and a renewed battle between Gates and Jobs.

Gates and Jobs in 2006   Bill Gates, one of the richest men, has also become one of the biggest charitable givers. He and his wife Linda have donated some $31 billion to philanthropic causes. When Bill Gates read the World Development Report by the World Bank, he realized that he could improve the health of people in poor countries by supplying drugs and treatment. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also provides scholarships for students with different backgrounds. While Gates is very much in philanthropy, Microsoft is preparing the new Windows Vista which helps users in enhancing their computing experience.

Steve Jobs’ career also took some interesting turns. After he was fired by Scully (the person he hired), he started a company called NeXT and Pixar, the firm that created the first computer animated feature film. When Apple got into trouble, Jobs was rehired, doing some amazing things. When he was diagnosed with cancer—which fortunately could be successfully treated—his outlook on life changed. In the 2005 commencement address at Stanford University he said: “Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” In 2006, Jobs can look back with exciting new products such as computers and the best selling iPods: the Nano and the Video. Now, the pundits are wondering, what will be Steve’s next innovation?


  1. Compare and contrast the careers of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
  2. Compare and contrast the leadership styles and managerial practices of Gates and Jobs.
  3. What do you think about the future of Microsoft and Apple Computers?
  4. What is the outlook on life of the two computer nerds?

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