Six Things I Learned from Reading Steve Jobs Authorized Biography

By Alan L. Shulman | January 23, 2012

The first lesson learned from Walter Issacson’s best-selling biography, Steve Jobs (Simon and Schuster), is that you should have started your agency in a garage with a guy called “Woz.” If you did, stop reading now and count your billions. If not, read on.

The book came out on Oct. 24, 2011. As a long-time Mac user, I picked up a copy that very day and finished its nearly 600 pages shortly thereafter. While reading it, I encountered many business items of interest that apply to property/casualty agencies. Here are six of them.

Simplify. Apple’s consumer products are successful, in part, because they are so simple to understand and operate. Emulate this simplicity in how you and your staff interact with insureds and prospects. Review your consumer marketing and proposals to make certain they display what you offer in a clear and understandable manner. For instance, employ simplified manual quote recap sheets to highlight the key elements of your offer to auto and home prospects, instead of fully relying on automatic laser-printed quotes.

Focus. After Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, following a 12-year exile from the company he co-founded, he slashed Apple’s lineup from dozens of products, “most of them crap,” to a manageable handful. This refocus was needed because he couldn’t easily answer the question: “Which [computer models] do I recommend to my friends?” Agents who seek to quote anyone and everyone are similarly complicating their sales lives. Instead, focus on specific targets or specialty policy types, to hone your expertise and enhance your bottom line.

Agents who seek to quote anyone and everyone are complicating their sales lives.

Rivals. Soon after Jobs came back, he sought a commitment from Bill Gates to continue producing Office for Mac. He also sought an investment in Apple stock so that Microsoft had a stake in the troubled company’s future. In his 1997 Macworld Expo speech, Jobs said, “We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win Microsoft has to lose…” Independents must similarly recognize that independents and direct writers can coexist and even prosper together. Both distribution channels are here to stay and, over time, market share will flow both ways, in varying percentages.

Details. Jobs was actively involved in managing the design and function of Apple products and its stores, even down to selecting the exact shade of gray on restroom signs. This may seem obsessive, but the message is that delegation is important for time management purposes, not for abandoning key principles. Agency executives can apply this lesson by taking the time and steps to make certain that each employee properly deals with insureds, prospects, and carrier personnel to the highest standards they set. Being “big picture-only” gives producers and CSRs unrestricted free reign in the performance of their daily duties, and it is a strategic error.

Chats. When Pixar built its new headquarters, Jobs was active in its design. Its floor plan included a central atrium that encouraged casual encounters and collaborative employee chats. Too many agency offices physically separate executives, producers, CSRs and other staffers. If your office is set up like this, consider affordable alternative floor plans that promote inter-employee contact. It makes everyone feel they are part of the same team and not underlings relegated to distant cubicles. This approach improves morale and encourages everyone to more fully participate in the vital acts of prospecting and client retention.

Ecosystem. Apple’s success is due to Jobs leadership and his belief that the company didn’t just sell electronics and media, that it provided an entire ecosystem that makes everything work together well. Apple buyers appreciate this approach and elect to function within the system, even at higher prices than their many competitors. Your agency has a similar choice to make: To offer a quality multi-line insurance ecosystem where buyers feel comfortable – or just to traffic in policies like so many do.

image of Alan L. Shulman

About Alan L. Shulman

Shulman, CPCU, is the publisher of Agency Ideas, a subscription-only sales and marketing newsletter. He is also the author of the many tools posted on the Agency Ideas Instant Download Store. Phone: 800-724-1435. Email: alan@agencyideas.com. Website: www.agencyideas.com. More from Alan L. Shulman

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Latest Comments

  • January 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm
    Phil Spencer says:
    Alan- Some great insight from you relative to this great book and some of the parallels to the P&C industry.
  • January 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm
    Ken Sachs says:
    Thanks for the recommendation. I am a reader and will check out the book. The points you make are excellent as well.
  • January 24, 2012 at 9:08 am
    Tom Greco says:
    It was a great read and you have some great thoughts on how to apply his success to our business environment
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