CHM-7/31 Event Summary: Ken Segall on "The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success"

A Sell Out/SRO crowd of over 400 people attended an outstanding Computer History Museum (CHM) talk by Ken Segall, author of the book, Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success. Mr. Segall was interviewed by Harry McCracken of Time magazine about his his experiences with Steve Jobs and other executivess at Apple.

Segal named the iMAC personal computer, which gave rise to all the other Apple iXYZ products (iPOD, iPAD, iPhone, etc). He worked with Steve Jobs for over 12 years while he was with an advertising agency. Segall saw all sides of the mercurial Jobs, acknowledging that Jobs could be controlling, unkind and petulant, but could also stroke egos and incite inspiration.

Ken Segall opened the dialog by stating that the secret to Apple’s success was Steve Job’s extreme focus, relentless pursuit of simplicity, and refusal to accept mediocrity or compromise excellence. Jobs encouraged Apple employees “to go all the way and make products that were 100% absolutely perfect.” Marketing was a big part of what Steve did, according to Segall. He recognized the power of brand name and worked with advertising agencies to exploit it. He had great vision and encouraged his marketing staff to “think different.” That was exemplified by the iMAC ad campaign, where he tried to recruit then President Bill Clinton!

“There were times when Steve was misty eyed when he told us how much he enjoyed working with us,” Segall said (referring to his ad agency).

Segall told an interesting story on how the iMAC name was coined and accepted. Job inititally came up with the name MACman, while others proposed names like RocketMAC, MACster, and EveryMAC. Segall offered iMAC which Jobs eventually selected, much to Segall’s surprise. Again, the i prefix is part of all the insanely popular Apple products in recent years. Segall said that Jobs was not a tyrant – contrary to what many have said about the iconic leader. “Jobs surrounded himself with the smartest people he could find. He was not a tyrant.” Segall said that Jobs encouraged employees to innovate. They were so motivated that they strove to produce results that were greater than Jobs expected.

Ken Segal’s book came out months after Walter Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs—in which Segall’s name appears on pages 329 and 351—but Segall’s book was “all planned before Steve got in trouble with his health,” he says. In conclusion, Segall stated that the name “Apple” has become synonymous with simplicity and sophistication. The Apple brand is perfectly linked to its products and every Apple product ad is a “brand ad.” When compared to Apple, most technology companies* lack leadership, vision, innovation, and sharp focus. Steve Jobs instilled all of those great qualities within the company he co-founded and turned into the largest company in the U.S. (based on stock market capitilization).

*Author’s Note: Segall also worked with Intel and Dell so he is uniquely qualified to point out the the stark contrasts between the practices of Apple and other iconic technology companies.

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