“His proudest achievements were those to come”

“HIS proudest accomplishments were those to come. This line from Tim Cook’s memo to Apple employees on the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs’ passing on October 5 has been on my mind constantly since I read it. I realized it didn’t just capture the essence, genius and uniqueness of Steve Jobs; it is the idealization of a perspective and must be contrasted with the regressive nature of its opposite.

Before we start to analyze the depth of this statement, let’s look at the opposite. You can see it daily in the Conservatives and fear of change advocates that we see and read on a daily basis. It can range from hostility to mRNA vaccines, climate change, new products, new systems, etc. Fear of the unknown or the familiar. I’m going to read Rationality by Steven Pinker who was interviewed last Friday on “Real Time with Bill Maher”. Pinker, who teaches at Harvard, has been criticized for being too positive about progress. He had a nice line in the series: “The best explanation for the good old days is a bad memory.” Similar to what the great conductor Toscanini said: “Tradition is the last bad performance. And the great composer and conductor Mahler said: “Tradition is neglect. By the way, my change is bad readers, it does not mean that you throw away what is old. This means that everything is constantly validated and kept or improved if it is good or replaced or revised if not. This is why in large companies, they have what are called “best practices”. These are not past practices, nor even existing or new ones, but best practices. Hope you enjoy the update on validation, revalidation, enhancement, and replacement where applicable. Look at Apple; do they wait for their products to be replaced or become their own replacements? In the early 2000s, you might have had a Nokia phone and you might have celebrated ditching your Walkman for an iPod. Both have likely been replaced by an iPhone. The successor to the iPod was an iPhone and the successor to your cell phone was also an iPhone. Very critical distinction.

Asked by Bill Maher about the difference between stupidity and ignorance in the discussion that followed, Pinker noted that there is a strong correlation between intelligence and openness to progress and ideas. In fairness, he points out that some confirmation bias does not correlate with lack of intelligence. In other words, while not all conservative and progress-resistant types are stupid, most stupid people are conservative, resistant to change and progress. I wonder where the Luddits fall in this article, among others. I would have given them the benefit of the doubt before but not anymore because a lot of people can be normal otherwise but surprisingly stupid in some ways. If I had previously underestimated this distinction, the incredibly harmful and ignorant whining about Covid and climate change that I have seen has argued for me.

False nostalgia

But worse than that, it is the false nostalgic who dream of a golden age that never existed. Thus, the present and the future compete with a version of the past that does not exist and is even more polished by whimsy and imaginary recall. As my readers may know, I am a huge fan of classical music and my favorite composer is Shostakovich, my favorite work is his Symphony No.5, and my favorite conductor of this work is Leonard Bernstein. I have his two recordings from 1959 and 1979 and shortly before returning to Asia after working in New York in October 1989 I drove over seven hours to watch Bernstein conduct Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony. Unfortunately, this must have been the last time he was running it as he died the following year. Too bad because he was planning to record it again. It was by far the greatest live musical performance I have seen, and the way the Largo ended was an experience that has never been matched in the many performances I have had the privilege of. to attend for the past 30 years. I’ve probably watched it live more than a dozen times since then and I have shamefully 11 recordings (not counting the ones I donated) in my collection. Over time, as every recording and performance didn’t match Bernstein’s, I began to wonder if my memories were real or if, over time, the legend and memory of this performance had faded. improved and exaggerated in hindsight. Fortunately, a few years ago someone posted this live performance from 1989 on YouTube; it turns out it was recorded and broadcast on national public radio. I listened to it several times. Although the sound is not ideal, I can still hear when played at full volume this otherworldly and truly moving ending of the Largo. At least my memory wasn’t faulty.

I was lucky enough to have the means to test my memory. Like most of us in what we consider to be an earlier golden age. For those longing for an earlier golden age that did not exist except in your biased memory, please look at the facts and not just pick out an isolated memory from that time.

Question and improve

Now on to Steve Jobs and what the bright side brings. It is a forward-looking approach that begins very simply by questioning everything and improving everything. It is the opposite of complacency and routine. It does not involve change for the sake of change but a constant challenge to be better and to think of solutions, products and processes that did not exist before. Think back to the late 1970s; computers were behemoths that took up a floor or a room, and Jobs created the first personal computer that became popular. Music was listening to your record player, then maybe cassettes and cassettes and an upgrade with the Walkman so you can treat your cassette or CD like a radio. I remember having to select a dozen CDs to take with me on my trip. Then he took MP3 technology and adapted and improved it to become the iPod and made it and your computer the storage devices for your entire music library. My library takes 390 days to play. I look at my CD wall and see everything transferred to a shortcut on my computer and devices. Then cell phones, thanks to Blackberries, went from cell phones to managing e-mail and some use of the Internet. Then came the iPhone. Now, not only were all these products revolutionary, but Apple kept improving them, from their functionality, their design to their weight. Not only did they innovate and lead the way, but their entire support network had to do the same and innovate and lead the way. Their competitors too.

What was the point? Never be satisfied and always improve or innovate. Be your own replacement rather than being replaced by others. What is the difference with other innovative companies? In many cases, the pioneer, innovator or entrepreneur makes it a dynamic and forward-looking place. Then he or she ages or retires and the business slips into a mode of greater success and protection of our profits and our market share. Or company policy makes continuous innovation impossible or slow. Apple has said that we are not just a technology company; we are a perpetual disruptor and innovator who has also grown into a mass luxury brand with some pricing power. Evidence? Even a decade after Steve Jobs passed away, his wit and approach still drives Apple. Hence, its incredible 973% return over the past 10 years. Truly amazing and unprecedented.

It’s Henry Sy Sr.’s birthday today. I am sorry that he is no longer with us and I will always be grateful for the trust and mentorship he kindly gave me. He was a visionary, focused and a very tough negotiator. Yet he was very kind, polite, humble and considerate. You wanted to do more than your best by portraying it like I did. SM Investments has won three consecutive Transactions of the Year 2005-2007 awards from Finance Asia. Finance Asia told me that this is a record for an issuer. Honored to have represented them in these transactions. More than that, I missed the shoot the breeze stories that he was kind enough to share with me when I visited him, usually every month before he got sick, and we were just talking (although most of the time I listened) because we rarely talked about the offers except when there was something pending.

Finally, my condolences to the family of Ricardo Po Sr. who passed away last Tuesday. It has been an honor and pleasure to deal with him and his children in many transactions, including the Century Pacific Private Placement and IPO and the Shakey’s Purchase and IPO. He was a very intelligent, charming and elegant person who had to be very proud of how his heritage is so skillfully pursued and developed by his sons.