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How disagreeing with Steve Jobs landed one Apple manager a promotion

February 8th, 2016 at 4:56 PM
Steve Jobs Apple

BusinessInsider points us to an interesting and little-known story involving Steve Jobs and Donna Dubinsky. Though Dubinsky may not have the same level of name recognition as Jobs, she played an instrumental role at Apple back in the ’80s and later helped spearhead the PDA revolution as both the CEO of Palm and one of the co-founders of Handspring.

In an interesting anecdote from the recently released book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the WorldAdam Grant relays how Dubinsky back in the mid-’80s put her job on the line when she went head to head with Jobs over Apple’s plans to completely revamp its distribution strategy. While one might reflexively assume that disagreeing with Jobs was a surefire way to get belittled, the truth is that Jobs welcomed disagreement and original thought. In fact, many people close to Jobs have said that Jobs would often disagree with people in an underhanded effort to get them to convince him of an idea.

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That aside, the source of Dubinsky and Jobs’ disagreement back in 1985 centered on Jobs’ plan to completely eliminate the company’s warehouses and effectively bring Mac inventory down to essentially zero. Instead, Jobs wanted to implement a build-to-order system that would only see Mac computers assembled once an order came in, a strategy Dell would later implement to great success about 10 years later.

But back in 1985, such a strategy didn’t quite make sense for Apple, and Dubinsky vehemently argued that Jobs’ plan was a complete non-starter.

The book reads:

Suddenly, Steve Jobs proposed eliminating all six U.S. warehouses, dropping their inventory, and moving to a just-in-time production system in which computers would be assembled upon order and overnighted by FedEx.

Dubinsky thought this was a colossal mistake, one that could put the company’s entire future in jeopardy. “In my mind, Apple being successful depended on distribution being successful,” she says.

In fact, Dubinsky was so passionate in her belief that Jobs’ plan was ill-conceived that she went so far as to say that she would quit if she wasn’t allowed to develop a counterproposal regarding Apple’s distribution plan.

The end result? Dubinsky’s own proposal prevailed. What’s more, Dubinsky’s tenacity and foresight cemented her status as one of Apple’s more integral managers, ultimately helping her land a senior position at Claris, then a software subsidiary of Apple known for apps such as MacWrite and MacPaint.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.

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