Steve Jobs vs. Sam Walton: A rare conversation with their biographers

In the new issue of Fortune, Managing Editor Andy Serwer interviews John Huey and Walter Isaacson – the biographers of Sam Walton and Steve Jobs, respectively – on Walton and Jobs.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation about Apple and Steve Jobs:

• Walter Isaacson: “I think I understood everything about Jobs except for why he opened up so much.”

• On why he did reveal so much, Jobs told Isaacson: “I have an amazing life. It was very interesting. I just think people ought to know.”

• Isaacson: “Steve was focused on product and did not focus mainly on profit… He was motivated by making the most beautiful products he could imagine. He never wanted to compete on price or be a commodity… 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.'”

• John Huey: “Walter made a joke about Ben Franklin and Einstein and Steve Jobs, but I don’t really think it’s a joke. I think they were all geniuses.”‘

Much more in the full article – recommended – here.


  1. Both Jobs and Walton could get to the key nut to crack to make the business or a store or a product “work”.

    They both knew how to use pressure to get their way.

    Neither one gave up working until on their death bed, literally.

  2. Walmart is not the same company that Sam Walton built.

    I think he would understand the decisions made today, but his heart would be broken that they had to go to China in order to “win” the retail space. And frankly drag American manufactures and workers kicking and screaming along the way. Are we in a better place? He wouldn’t think so.

    He paid for his whole graduating (high school) class reunion, regardless of where they lived, to get together. My next door neighbor went to school with him.

    He started by buying a Ben-Franklin five n dime franchise and expanded from there. I grew up going to Ben-Franklin near my home, sometimes stopping on the way from school, to get candy and Star Wars cards.

    Connections, however slight, are fun to think about.

    1. Walton’s “heart would be broken that they had to go to China in order to “win” the retail space.”

      But we are now seeing the return of some products to the US as Chinese wages ramp up even higher. Chinese wages have gone up over 10/1 since the end of Mao. They no longer have absolute wage advantages and robots are now supreme in many instances as one robot can replace 3 workers and run 24 hours a day for repetitive tasks with fewer managers and errors. Robots have become rather commonplace and the price has continually become more affordable with easier programming.

      Hence, the world is changing again and again it will be the managers with the vision of the future who will grab it.

    2. I wish your view of Sam Walton was correct, but sadly Walton was a huge advocate of outsourced labor and imported inexpensive goods.

      Walton was a showman, a carnival barker, a modern PT Barnum dragging the dime store into the era of the big-box.

      Over 40% of all goods in the stores from DAY-ONE were produced in Asia, his folk hero persona was completely manufactured marketing. You may not be old enough but that “Buy American” marketing backfired for wal-mart when it was discovered that it was just not true, to the point that deliberate “miss-tagged” items were discovered, in effect marketing fraud. This marketing was in full force for years before it was exposed by NBC just a few months after Sam died.

      Pacific Resources Export Limited was created exclusively for wal-mart by Sam Walton to insulate wal-mart from dealings with communist China, not because he cared but because he wanted to keep w-mart protected from “the stain of Chinese communism” in the US market.

      Wal-Mart was telling suppliers to “go Asian” and build and invest in China in the early 90’s, even to the point of threatening companies with withdrawal if they did not follow the suggestions…

      So much for patriotism…

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