CUPERTINO, Calif. ( MainStreet) -- The news that icon Steve Jobs finally surrendered his position Wednesday as Apple's ( AAPL) chief executive to COO Tim Cook should have small businesses pondering what they can learn from Jobs' impressive time running one of the most innovative companies in the U.S.Indeed, there are many lessons Jobs' reign can offer to small-business owners. 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.
|Apple icon Steve Jobs stepped down from his CEO role Wednesday.|
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, when storage quickly reached the point 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. But gave customers what they wanted by listening. Those unspoken needs 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' has "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."