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Fixing GM and the Big Three: What Would Steve Jobs Do?

What would Steve Jobs do to save GM? And why isn’t the US government asking the man that totally turned around a company that literally everyone thought was dead and turned it into an American icon of global corporate success?

The other day I came across this article that flirted with ideas that were already circulating in my head for some time. What if Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive (Apple’s famed industrial designer) got their hands on car design? What if Apple was involved in a joint project? And what — given our now very troubling situation with the Big Three in Detroit — would Jobs do if asked for his opinion on how to fix GM in particular…what might he do? 

Steve Jobs’ Answer

There are many ways to look at this. Judging from the way Jobs took hold of Apple in 1997 when he came back to save the company we could certainly assume that Jobs would slash product lines very dramatically. But there is another answer that precedes that.
Steve Jobs stands for innovation, true innovation. Jobs also stands for originality, independent thinking and a complete passion for the energy he puts behind his company and its products. From this perspective one could reasonably assume that Steve Jobs would just say screw the Big Three, they all fail on the merits for which he lives and breaths. And I think those who think they know Jobs would be none too surprised by such a judgement. 
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However, if the governement said, “Steve, we’ve made a decision that Detroit is a critical piece of our country’s future, we are going to save these companies to some degree, but we want you to tell us what you would do, if you were in complete control of the situation.”

The Apple 2.0 Template

Here’s what I think Steve might do. On a certain level he would apply the same type of thinking he applied to Apple and Pixar. We might refer to this as the Apple 2.0 template. So what did Steve do back in 1997? 

Firstly he started from scratch. He launched a totally ground-breaking “save the company” initiative called the iMac. It was a small team, it was highly secretive and he went at it much like he did with the first Mac project. What GM must really do, Steve might argue, is completely focus on building that one car that will utterly captivate the car industry and the world at large. And this car would need to be a game changer. Nothing less is worth even considering. That is what Steve did with the iMac project.

Second, Steve would want to re-establish what GM stands for and what the various brands mean. In other words, the “Think different” campaign but his time for GM and the brands it would keep. This might be the most difficult part of the entire application of the Apple 2.0 Template to GM. What the heck does GM stand for anyway?

In reviewing GM’s many brands Jobs might come to what is an obvious conclusion for many but to so few within GM itself: kill more than half the brands. And kill them today. 

What Steve did with Apple in 1997 was nothing short of breathtaking. The sub-brands, the products lines and technologies he killed included things that many thought just didn’t make sense to kill. They still seemed promising. Yet he killed them or put them on ice nonetheless. He terminated, for example, the Newton MessagePad, a handheld computing platform that seemed promising at the time. He wiped out entire product lines and eliminated a mix-mash series of Mac products by boiling down all computers into his now famous four-product matrix. 

What would a four product matrix look like for GM?

Heck, let’s make it easier. What would a six or eight product matrix look like for GM?

While it is totally unclear to many whether or not a government bailout of GM and the other Big Three truly makes sense for the US, what does make sense — at least to me — is that the government could certainly benefit from a Jobsian approach and understanding of the problem. So perhaps they should ask the man himself. 

“Steve, what would you do to save GM…or would you?”