(Updated story; originally posted on 8/25/11 after announcement that Steve Jobs had resigned.)
CUPERTINO, Calif. ( MainStreet) -- The death of tech icon and former Apple (AAPL) chief executive Steve Jobs Wednesday at the age of 56 was a powerful blow worldwide. But Jobs' impressive time running one of the most innovative companies in the U.S. left a legacy of key lessons for small businesses.
After all, the company, more recently known as the maker of everything "i" - iPhone, iPad, iPod, iTunes -- was once a small business, started in a garage in the 1970s.
Lesson 1: Don't be afraid to go out on a limb.
Perhaps this is the biggest lesson of all from Jobs' time with Apple. He pushed thresholds by giving consumers what they wanted probably even before they knew they wanted it, including by eliminating the floppy disk drive from computers. Users were outraged; but few miss the 3.5-inch disks, which can hold up to 1.44 MB of data, since storage quickly reached the point that 500 gigabytes is common for a laptop.
"What Steve Jobs brings to Apple is he is an incredible innovator, and this is something small-business owners can really emulate with great success," says Alice Bredin, small-business adviser to American Express (AXP) OPEN and president of Bredin Business Information."He doesn't look at an offering and industry and just slightly tweak -- he really starts with what should it be," whereas other companies tend to look at what is being done now and simply hone the offering, Bredin says. Of course, when you take Jobs-style risks, you'd better have Jobs-style confidence the risk is worth it. Usually you can give customers what they want by really listening to them. Sometimes it's the unspoken needs that are vital, says Sam Kumar, CEO of MYCO Medical, a medical device supply firm in Cary, N.C. "That avoids mediocrity and sameness, surprises customers with 'cool' new products so they will love you and praise your service," he says, noting that by doing that MYCO has been able to compete against larger, multibillion-dollar companies. Lesson 2: Have a succession plan.
While small-business owners typically wear many hats, preparing for the future or an unforeseen event such as a death or sickness of key personnel may not be a priority. This is a mistake, says Carolyn Thompson, director of the metro-DC region of Dixon Hughes Goodman's human resource services division. While Apple is known for its product innovation, it also had a succession plan. Thompson says it's important to "spread out the intellectual capital" among two or three key contributors, so someone else can step in to run the business if necessary. Jobs "surrounded himself with strong people and good succession planning. And that's where a lot of small businesses fail," she says. "That's the No. 1 takeaway from all of this -- you have to have some kind of No. 2 person ready. In a small business, that may be a family member or an employee."
Select the service that is right for you!COMPARE ALL SERVICES
Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.
- $2.5+ million portfolio
- Large-cap and dividend focus
- Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
- Weekly roundups
Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.
- Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
- Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
- A custom stock screener
- Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.
- Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
- Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
- Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.
- Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
- Intraday commentary & news
- Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.
- 100+ monthly options trading ideas
- Actionable options commentary & news
- Real-time trading community
- Options TV