The Sharp-Elbowed Suit And The Product Guy

The Product Guy – a much under-rated breed. Would Apple Maps have happened under Mr Jobs – the Product Guy’s Product Guy?

I don’t think so.

Was promoting the company lawyer to CEO at Nokia in the year before the launch of the iPhone a good move?


I don’t think so.


When did we last see a Product Guy in charge at those failing monoliths Sony, HP, Renesas and Sharp?


No one can remember.


Last week at the Future Horizons IEF2012 in Bratislava a distinguished technologist who is also an exec at one of the industry’s foremost companies told over dinner how his company was failing until a decision was taken from on high to replace the non-technical general managers of business divisions with technologists. The company thrived thereafter and thrives to this day.


Elsewhere, the sharp-elbowed suit reigns supreme. The qualities to reach the top are not the same as those required to drive a great product to market.


So can companies thrive without great products?


The sharp-elbowed suits would have us believe they can.



  1. No longer [Anonymous] I’ve just sold them

  2. and Laub has been paid excessively for this poor performance.You in the mean time are holding and praying for a miracle(takeover).

  3. Well compared to Irwin, who is a shining superstar, I’d say ‘doing OK’ is about right to describe the boy, Secret EuroPatentAgentMan, after all he’s only been in the job five minutes. As for earlier unfavourable comments about Qualcomm, these stemmed from its apparent aspiration to litigate every competitor out of the industry by fair means and foul. Latterly, it seems to have dropped (shelved?) this aspiration.

  4. SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

    “Doing OK”? Is this the famous British understatement at work? Some of your printed edition columns in the past expressed a certain reservation regarding Qualcomm.
    In my line of work Qualcomm is known to be a very interesting (in the positive sense of the word) client to have.

  5. Well his dad certainly built a huge business, SecretEuroPatentAgentMan, tho I agree the son is doing OK.

  6. SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

    > Morita and Ibuka established a tradition of technical leadership and built a huge business.
    Another example is perhaps Qualcomm, the current CEO is dr. Paul “speak softly” Jacobs.
    Lawyes as CEOs frequently get it in the neck, but I am not aware of any patent attorneys having become industry leaders.

  7. What i find interesting is how many great products were originally designed because
    the person who thought of them wanted one
    The Apple 1 was made because Woz wanted one
    The Walkman was made because Morita wanted one himself. It wasn’t even an original
    idea but European makers had dismissed the Stereobelt as something no one would want.
    The design of the Iphone was changed at the last
    minute to use a glass front as Steve Jobs hated
    the way the plastic screen on his prototype had scratched.
    Where companies go wrong is bringing out cheaper copies of other peoples designs, as there will always be a cheaper nastier version from someone else.

  8. And marketing without proper engineering is vaporware and engineering without design is usually atrocity.
    Jobs, Ive & Woz Godly competence in Marketing, Design & Engineering.

  9. Apple products were genius products because they sold themselves. That is, they were the right product at the right price at the right time with the right look, feel and features. Consciously or not, Jobs anticipated what the market wanted and would pay for, organised the design and manufacture and gave it to them. That equals textbook marketing.
    The issue now is that the market opportunities for other suppliers in what is dominated market (by Apple) are very challenging. Sony, Samsung and the rest have, by very careful analysis of consumer needs, to conceive and create products that the public will buy if they are to take some of that Apple cash mountain for themselves. That interrogative analysis *cannot* be undertaken by technologists no matter how smart. Technologists understand technology. Technology is a given in that progress is defined by the semiconductor suppliers. What is needed is a truly deep understanding of human behaviour, and that is not what technologists are trained for.
    As I said, running a business needs the combination of marketing folk who understand behaviour and feed needs to technologists and accounting people who make the resources available. But of these three functions, marketing *has* to be in the driving seat if profit is the objective.

  10. Well Alan, when Intel was in its glory days of non-stop product innovation it was led by technologists – Noyce, Moore and Grove; and TSMC was grown by a technologist – Morris Chang. But was Jobs just a marketing man? I don’t see it that way. He understood where technology was headed and he revered design. The first iPod and iPhone were revolutionary products. Maybe marketing has kept the show on the road subsequently but these were genius products.

  11. … and by ‘non-scientific types’ you mean sales and marketing people? It can’t be that simple. According to the Chartered Inst. of Marketing (UK) marketing is about matching consumer needs with products and services. If marketing is done correctly, then any and every business should thrive when the marketeers are running it. Brilliant marketing is what has made Apple Corp. what it is, and the cash mountain confirms exactly that.

  12. So that’s why I’ve held Atmel shares (bought when GP was CEO) for over ten years with b. all return [Anonymous]

  13. All of which goes to show, Alan, that when a science-based industry is handed over to non-scientific types, judgment goes awry. How could it be otherwise?

  14. Managing a business needs the combination of multiple skills. I suspect that most CEOs have come up through the accountancy ranks, and accountants are generally risk averse.
    However, perhaps the real villain is the marketing dept.. Outrageous, unrealistic projections for products which were poorly conceived, mistargeted, over priced or badly executed. With a few of those under the (accountant) CEO’s belt, is it any wonder they are fearful of innovation?

  15. A great comparison is at Atmel. Under George Perlegos new products flowed and the company grew.Under Steve Laub since 2006 the company has introduced zero new products, expansion of existing product lines does not count. Perlegos is an Engineer through and through. Laub is a Lawyer through and through.
    Perlegos tried many new products, not all succeeded. Under Laub a Lawyers approach just stifles new products to death.

  16. Yes indeed SecretEuroPatentAgentMan, what Morita and Ibuka did it is a supreme example of technical and entrepreneurial chutzpah e.g. getting $25,000 together – against the objections of MITI in a bankrupt post-war japan – to license the transistor in 1952; making the world’s second transistor radio and the first consumer tape recorder; developing CCD for over a decade before it was commercialised then cleaning up on video cameras; developing Trinitron; launching the Walkman. All these were big ballsy hairy risk-taking technology bets. It makes our current generation of milk and water numbers-obsessed execs look like pathetic shrinking violets.

  17. SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

    When they did make bets on technology the payoff was enormous. After all, Leo Esaki did his Nobel prize winning work while at Sony, before the company changed name to Sony.
    Early Sony history is rather interesting, and impressive when you see what they made based on very limited resources.

  18. Good points (and I speak as a PR not an engineer).
    I think with the amount of information, reviews, videos and so on floating around online nowadays, it’s more difficult to get away with a sub-standard product built on hype.
    So, thriving without a great product is possible, but difficult unless you’ve got some kind of lock-in (hello, Microsoft Office).
    Also makes me think of when Alta Vista first came on the scene, when it was almost a geeky secret that was passed on about this new search engine. And then when Google arrived later and was a better product, the same word of mouth thing happened.

  19. Absolutely spot on, SecretEuroPatentMan, Morita and Ibuka established a tradition of technical leadership and built a huge business. Howard Stringer from the CBS media acquisition took over later on and the huge business fell apart. As you say it’s a long time since Sony made a big technology breakthrough and that, IMHO, is because it’s a long time since Sony made a big bet on a technology.

  20. SecretEuroPatentAgentMan

    Didn’t also Sony have a leadership with technical background? Then they decided on a messy suicide by hiring a media dude. It is a long time since last Sony breakthrough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *