Real Leaders

The Day I Introduced Tim Cook to Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs came striding into his offsite meeting room one Saturday morning in 1989 in Palo Alto, California, USA, bristling with characteristic impatient energy and already thinking past the moment as to why it was so hard to find like-minded people to work with.

Inside the room sat a calm Tim Cook, who had just flown in on the advice of executive recruiter Rick Devine – to be presented to Jobs as a potential new Senior Vice President for Apple Inc. Jobs grabbed Cook by the hand, looked directly into his eyes and a spark of acknowledgment rippled through the room. Jobs knew he had found his man – and Devine tried not to exhale too loudly.

It was a life-changing moment for Devine too, who realized that a career built on carefully crafted resumes that placed executives in the world’s leading companies was not always the way to go.

Jobs was the quintessential instinct guy, known never to look at a resume. Chemistry and personality were far more important to him, and as Devine recalls, “he would just look at a guy and know.” The meeting that day was to take on historic proportions, as Cook went on to rise through the ranks of Apple to his current position of CEO. While Jobs had known what he was looking for that day, Cook still needed to be convinced — the meteoric rise of Apple had yet to begin — yet he had an equal hunch that this might just work. “No more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple,” said Cook. “My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for a creative genius and be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company.”

Devine knew it was a match made in heaven when Jobs started selling Apple to Cook. “There was no saying ‘no,’” recalls Devine. “Jobs kicked into sales mode and you got the distinct impression that he wasn’t leaving anytime soon.” That was not the case for a Japanese candidate a few weeks earlier who had flown non-stop from Tokyo to meet Jobs, only to have him walk out the meeting a few minutes later.

Inspired by Jobs’ seemingly magical instinct for recognizing talent, Devine has now founded Talent Sky, billed as the world’s first professional skills network, one that goes beyond simply listing job skills resume-style. He wants employers to cast their demands as understandable skill sets, not job descriptions, and those looking for work to navigate the ever-changing workplace by sharing work moments as engaging stories.

Spurred on by the fact that “work” is changing faster than people are developing, Devine is on a mission to capture work skill relevance in individuals – a self-worth that is marketable.

“Jobs was tuned into a vibration, an instinct, the ephemeral, a feeling, an emotion,” explains Devine. “An animal, for instance, can sense you from far away, and Jobs had an incredible ability to tap into something similar.”

However, despite Jobs being an instinct guy, he still needed to surround himself with people with the right skills. Companies can succeed or fail based on the skills and personalities of their employees.

Devine likes to think that he delivered a very specific skill set to Jobs, ones that he required for the role of Senior Vice President of Apple, but that he also had to cater for the “instinct factor,” a much harder thing to get right. He’s convinced this approach is what employers want today.”

The judgment of a human being cannot be automated,” he says. “Many can guarantee the right skills, but if people don’t get along, the relationship will go bust.”

The threat of being replaced by machines is nothing new. As far back as the 1800s, machines and technology displaced millions from their jobs. If you’re standing still at work and not growing, developing or upscaling, you can become unemployable within your lifetime. It’s estimated that around 20 percent of all skills are being reconfigured each year. That’s a five-year cycle where everything you know has to be learned again. “It’s like being highly skilled with a horse and a plow when everyone else has a GPS-guided tractor,” says Devine, bluntly. Already, a young person entering college may find their diploma or degree redundant by the end of their studies.

Talent Sky’s grand plan is to get employers of the world to speak as one on their skill demands and to downplay job descriptions.

The answer is skills visibility, according to Devine. “If you can’t see the change around you, you can’t make an informed decision on how to change.” He gives an example of being told a health bar contains 40 grams of sugar. You then have the choice of eating it, with the subsequent health risk, or ignoring it. “Work and skills are very similar. If you can see change around you and where you’re placed relative to it, you can make better decisions around your employability.”

Part of Devine’s visibility plan is an ambitious project to create the world’s first, comprehensive skills taxonomy, freely available to anyone. Their library is currently sitting at 10,000 descriptions and is the first attempt at a common skills language.

The idea has also appealed to companies such as IBM, The Coca-Cola Co. and Footlocker Inc., who have thrown their weight behind the movement to help the development of their employees and transform the employment system into one that no longer fears change, but embraces change as an opportunity.

Skills are something you learn, but don’t define you as a person. Devine wants to consider personality  traits and upskill employees without even changing their job titles. “Why would you want to recruit new people over existing employees when you can enhance existing ones?” he asks. He points to LinkedIn as a great outreach platform that decided to sell advertising, instead of grabbing the opportunity to change the professional visibility market in a fundamental way. “LinkedIn did not go far enough to create a common skills language,” says Devine. “It’s core business is posting job descriptions and sending job offer emails to people on the network. They didn’t move the system forward, just added more job ads.”

“We are creating a technological answer to a global problem. Your worth in the marketplace shouldn’t just be a laundry list of achievements, but an evaluation of your humanness too. If we democratize the employment system around skills, everyone will have an equal chance at success.”

Having watched Steve Jobs closely, Devine feels he’s disrupting a big, broken employment system and moving it toward the next big thing.

He fondly remembers his days of tirelessly seeking the right person for someone who encouraged people to “Think Different.” Thankfully, being around people such as Jobs has spurred Devine to think big and realize that opportunity comes in all shapes and sizes.



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