Guy Kawasaki visits Klick to talk nepotism, hard work and, of course, Steve Jobs

Legendary Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki was the featured speaker at the third chapter of the Klick IDX Authors Series in Toronto last week, following previous appearances by Non-Obvious author Rohit Bhargava and Hacking Darwin author Jamie Metzl.

An overflow crowd of more than 300 Klick employees attended the hour-long session in the Klick Cafe at the agency’s Bloor St. E. headquarters. Kawasaki (right in picture, being interviewed by Gautam Gulati, MD, curator of the author series and Klick’s medical innovator-in-residence) was here to speak at Elevate Tech Fest and to promote his latest book (his 15th) Wise Guy: Lessons From a Life.

Famously part of the team that helped launch the Apple Macintosh (which he described as “the largest collection of egomaniacs in the history of Silicon Valley”), Kawasaki, 65, is now chief evangelist for online graphics design firm Canva (which last year became Australia’s second startup unicorn) and a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz USA.

During his presentation, the Hawaii-born tech guru spoke about his fondness for Canada (“a great neighbour of ours for a very long time”), espoused the value of nepotism, hard work and taking the high road, and even indicated his preferred way of dying (right after surfing a perfect wave, followed by burial at sea).

Naturally, he also gave the audience some insight into legendary Apple leader Steve Jobs. “Everything you’ve read, heard and seen about Steve is true,” said Kawasaki, who worked for Apple twice (1983-87 and 1995-97)—stints that he has publicly referred to as “tours of duty” in recognition of Jobs’ prickly and demanding nature.

“He was very difficult to work for,” said Kawasaki. “He ruled by fear, and contrary to every HR theory you’ve ever heard, fear works. I was deathly afraid of being humiliated.”

Kawasaki shared a famous story that simultaneously underscored how Jobs liked to flout convention and just how different he was from mere mortals. In California, drivers were historically given a six-month grace period before being required by law to put plates on their vehicle.

Jobs, however, thought license plates ruined the aesthetics of his Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, so would only drive it up to the six-month mark before trading it in for an identical model—reportedly even parking in handicapped spots or driving solo in the carpool lane with impunity (California closed what was known as the “Steve Jobs loophole” this year).

“One of the dangers of Steve Jobs is that from the outside looking in, people say ‘I want to be a visionary. I want to create a trillion-dollar company. I want to go buy a pair of Levis 501s, New Balance running shoes and a black mock turtleneck, and buy a car and not license it, and drive in the carpool lane and I’ll be the next Steve Jobs,'” said Kawasaki. “No you wont. You’ll just be an asshole.”

At the same time, he said, it was “an honour and a privilege” to work in such close proximity to one of the founding fathers of the modern tech industry. “He was just brilliant,” said Kawasaki. “I think the world is a lot less interesting without Steve Jobs, and I promise you he’s telling God what to do right now.

“They’re probably designing Universe 2.0, and if Steve is developing Universe 2.0, I can tell you a few things about it: First of all it’s going to be late, second it’s going to be very expensive, third it’s going to be the best universe ever except until about 3 p.m., when the batteries die, and the fourth and most important thing is that none of the cables from this universe will work with it.”

Built around a series of lessons from his book, Kawasaki’s presentation got off to a rocky start when he couldn’t get the screens to properly display his slides, leading to a well-delivered quip: “You must be running off a Windows laptop.”

Jokes out of the way, he delivered an engaging, frequently funny presentation that included some illuminating insights into contemporary business and the power of brand.

While discussing the importance of doing whatever it takes to succeed, Kawasaki recalled how legendary Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson convinced him to switch from United Airlines to Virgin Airlines by polishing his shoes. “I guarantee you Steve Jobs never get down on his knees and polished anybody’s shoes for them to buy an Apple product.”

Kawasaki also presented a slide that he said summed up everything from product development to life. It featured a two-by-two matrix, with the vertical axis represented by “uniqueness” and the horizontal axis represented by “value.”

The upper left corner of the grid is where brands that are unique but not valuable exist (“in that corner you’re just plain stupid,” said Kawasaki); the bottom left corner, he said, is populated by brands that are not valuable “and other stupid companies are doing the same thing.”

The bottom right quadrant is occupied by brands that are valuable but not unique, which Kawaski referred to as the “Dell corner.” “It’s always about price in that corner, because when you slap the same Windows operating license on the same hardware, guess what? It’s about price.”

The place to be, he said, is high and to the right; that’s the spot occupied by products and brands that are unique and valuable, such as the iPod when it first debuted. “This explains all marketing: It’s all about communicating to prospective customers why your client is unique and valuable,” he said. “That’s where margin is made, that’s where money is made and that’s where history is made.


Chris Powell