The latest Fortune magazine features an article titled “Steve Jobs vs. Sam Walton: The Tale of the Tape.” Biographers of the two iconic businessmen share stories about their successes.
[Walter] Isaacson: … Steve was focused on product and did not focus mainly on profit. He said, “If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.” He was motivated by making the most beautiful products he could imagine. He never wanted to compete on price or be a commodity.
[John] Huey: Steve was focusing on an elite group of people who appreciated the art of his business talent. In so doing, he focused on the product, and he created a product that had margins that were as insanely great as the insanely great products. Sam was the exact opposite. He focused on being able to open a store in five days, and if the margins got above anything that was infinitesimal, he was angry. He was a businessman who had to keep margins down because he was all about volume. He wanted a clean store, but he wouldn’t spend a penny on design. For years they did their own ads with clip-art books. Steve would design a new font to have an ad.
Isaacson: For his store he took out a design patent on that staircase, and his name is on that patent, and most of the major Apple Stores now have them. He said, “You want that stairway so people believe they’re in someplace magical.”
Huey: Sam would take his executives around to the worst store that he could come up with, and he would say, “This is a horrible store. I want everybody to come out of there with one thing they do better than we do because everybody does something good. And there’s something in there that we could do.”
Absent from this excerpt, and from the rest of the article, is any mention of efforts to kiss up to government officials and regulators. Neither Jobs nor Walton wanted to use the government to help Apple or Wal-Mart secure unearned advantages over their competitors. As different as they were, Jobs and Walton had one key characteristic in common: Neither was a crony capitalist.