7 Supply Chain Lessons from Steve Jobs

Apple Inc is regarded as the best company for its cutting-edge supply chain practices. What's the secret behind the Apple supply chain? This article will explain to you what we can learn from the co-founder of the company.

Apple Inside Nutshell
It goes without saying that Apple Inc is famous for its strengths in product design, product development, branding, and marketing strategy. When it comes to supply chain management practices, many people believe that its supply chain model and sophisticated software system are the secret weapons that help them maintain international business leadership.

In April 2012 (six months after Jobs's death), Harvard Business Review published the article called "The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs". The author of this article is Walter Isaacson who helped Steve Jobs complete his best-selling biography. Isaacson identifies the practices that he believes people should learn. Even though it's about business management in general, the article contains some interesting aspects of supply chain management as below,

1. Customer comes first, cost-cutting comes second
The philosophy of product development at Apple is to build "insanely great" products that customer wants to purchase. Simply put, Jobs pursued the differentiation or value creation strategy. And when the whole supply chain takes action in sync with this strategy, the success is phenomenal!

From 1983 to 1993 when Jobs didn't take the helm of the company, the cost reduction/profit maximization project was the primary strategy that resulted in the downward spiral.

2. Set impossible target
When Jobs decided that he wanted the face of the iPhone to be the scratchproof glass, he turned to Corning who developed the technology called "Gorilla Glass" but it's just a prototype in the R&D lab. Jobs indicated clearly that he wanted a major shipment of Gorilla Glass within 6 six weeks which was beyond the capability of Corning. However, Job negotiated and insisted on this request and later Corning converted one of its LCD production lines and inventory control facilities to produce the new kind of glass.

3. Prioritize action
After Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, there was a wide array of unrelated product lines. Then, he announced that he needed only 4 product categories, namely, "Consumer", "Pro", "Desktop", and "Portable". By segmenting the products properly, Jobs reduced the complexity of the supply chain big time and his team can prioritize the actions required to support the strategy.

In six sigma or lean manufacturing, most actions are prioritized effectively based on the ease of improvement and financial impact.

4. Adopt process view
Jobs ensured that the performance of microprocessors down to the experience of buying products at its stores was linked together. To do this, Apple increased the internal integration by establishing a common goal across business units.

5. Simplify product/process
It said on Apple's first marketing brochure that "Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication". In literal meaning, Jobs eliminated the unnecessary components which led to the reduction of inventory and a smoother production and operations management process.

6. Make a radical change when necessary
The integration of iPod, Itunes, and Itunes Store revolutionized the music industry. However, Jobs was afraid that someone would add a music player to the phone's handset, then, he decided to discontinue the sales of the iPod and created the iPhone. Radical change or "Re-engineering" may be necessary if the external forces are strong.

7. Enhance relationship via a face-to-face meeting
Jobs believed that great ideas couldn't be developed solely via e-mail. From his experience, he created the ideas from long meetings or even when you ran into someone. This lesson works well for both internal and external relations.

Supply chain management is everywhere, from strategy formulation, product segmentation, and product/process design down to customer service and customer satisfaction. Supply chain professionals adopt whatever concepts that help to create value.

Even though Apple Supply Chain has some "hiccups" such as various problems of suppliers in Asia, they are definitely one of the role models in supply chain management.

- Isaacson, W. (2012). The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs. Harvard business review, 90(4), 92-102.

- Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster.

Books We Recommend

7 Best Supply Chain Books of All Time

7 Best Purchasing Books Ever Written

7 Best Operations Management Books CEOs Read

7 Best Inventory Control Books Ever Written

7 Best Lean Books Ever Written

Last review and update: July 5, 2022
About the Author and Editor:
Ben Benjabutr is the author and editor of Supply Chain Opz. He holds an M.Sc. in Logistics Management with 10+ years of experience. You can contact him via e-mail or Twitter.