Boston Public Radio Podcast
3:34 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn Asks If The Steve Jobs Work Ethic Was One Without Ethics

Credit By Matthew YoheMatt Yohe from Wikimedia Commons

If Steve Jobs were alive today would he be behind bars?  That's the question New York Times columnist James B. Stewart asks in his recent column.

The abridged list of how Jobs bent the law to the breaking point includes: conspiring to prevent competitors from poaching his employees, acting as ringmaster of the e-book market price-fixing conspiracy, and  his dubious role in Apple's stock options backdating scandal. For Jobs it seems he was operating under the premise that if you could  "think different" then you could  "act different."

As Slate's Dan Gross put it in his 2006 column:

Jobs is Michael Jordan in the 1990s, Citigroup in the 1980s, Walter Cronkite in the 1960s. He's a revered Hall of Famer who doesn't get whistled for fouls that send other pros to the bench. Jobs is too big to fail. He is too popular—among investors, journalists, employees, analysts, and in the culture at large—for anyone to recommend that he be deposed. Without Jobs, after all, there would be no Apple

For Jobs to succeed as an innovator he had to push all kinds of boundaries. But at what point did he push them too far? We lionize him as a global business leader  even though he flagrantly violated antitrust laws. Today we see his anarchist approach alive and well in certain silicon valley startups such as Uber and Airbnb who  argue that for them, regulatory rules don't apply.

So for the sake of innovation is it OK to forsake what is right and legal?

Today Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn joins Jim  Braude and Margery Eagan to examine what we lose when businesses act outside the law. For that discussion, and to find out what innovators she thinks are breaking the mold without breaking the rules, listen here:

Related Program