Motivation behind Apple’s ‘holy war’

A year before he died in 2011, Steve Jobs wrote a blunt description of Apple’s agenda. “Holy war with Google” was the first point in his presentation to the company’s top 100 executives.

Like other Silicon Valley founders such as Mr Larry Ellison of Oracle, Jobs relished a feud.

When his anger was provoked by an old rival such as Mr Bill Gates of Microsoft or a company he deemed to be getting in Apple’s way unfairly, such as Adobe, he let loose. Some competition was more than a business matter — it was personal.

Mr Ellison often quotes a dictum he ascribes to Genghis Khan, the 13th-century Mongol Emperor and warlord: “It is not enough that I succeed. Everyone else must fail.”

His fights with rivals such as SAP, the German software company, were driven as much by pride as by corporate interest.

“I’ll admit to it. Mea culpa. An awful lot of it is personal vanity,” he once told the television interviewer Charlie Rose.

At least one of Jobs’ fights endures after his death. His email emerged last Tuesday in a prolonged court battle between Apple and Samsung over whether the latter had infringed Apple’s patent rights in its use of Android software. For Jobs, Google’s promotion of Android to compete with his iOS software was an infuriating betrayal.


Rivalry may stem from vanity in the boardroom, but it is often extremely effective — as Apple and Oracle show. The urge to beat the old foe has spurred on competitors such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, Adidas and Puma, and Ford and General Motors, over decades. Like a sports derby between two teams from one city, it produces an emotional high.

“Rivalries can be very productive because they push companies to raise their game and consumers benefit. They often promote innovation,” says Professor Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School.

“Jobs was the master of hyperbole and was good at stoking emotional excitement among employees.”

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