Great executives pay attention to detail. Here are a few examples:
Vic Gundotra, who managed Google+, had a legendary interaction with the late Steve Jobs. In 2008, Steve called Vic on a Sunday while he was in a religious service. Vic didn’t pick up so Steve left a message saying that he had something urgent to discuss. Vic called back and it turned out that Steve was unhappy the second O in the Google logo on the iPhone at the time didn’t have the right yellow gradient. A CEO like Jobs paid attention to the gradient of the second O in the Google logo on a Sunday!
Tim Cook is another example of leaders who pay attention to even small details. When Tim first joined Apple, he held an operations meeting to learn everything he could about the company’s supply chain. Tim probed about the percentage of produced units that passed quality assurance before shipment. When told that the yield was 98%, Tim would ask: how did the other two percent fail? Tim also has a habit of waking up early to review sales data. He once discovered that one model of iPhone was more popular than another model in a small city in Georgia. The difference was due to different promotions run across the state.
Jony Ive was instrumental to the success that Apple had had for the past 20+ years prior to leaving the company in 2019. A great product designer, he was known for perfectionism and a maniacal focus on details. To demonstrate, here is an excerpt from Tripp Mickle book “After Steve” on Jony
IVE’S PERFECTIONISM intensified under Jobs. In 2002, Apple’s leadership agreed to change its laptop cases from titanium to aluminum, a more versatile metal. It tapped a Japanese manufacturer to produce the computer casing, and Ive traveled to Tokyo to evaluate their work with Bart Andre, the product’s design lead, and Nick Forlenza, an engineer who brought designs to life on the factory floor. Ive arranged to meet at the Hotel Okura Tokyo, one of the city’s oldest luxury hotels.
On the day of the meeting, the delegation from Apple and the manufacturer breezed through the hotel’s gold-hued lobby past shin-high tables to a private room. A Japanese executive pulled several aluminum laptop casings out of a manila envelope for Ive to review. The supplier had polished the parts to a shimmering satin silver that reflected the artificial light from the ceiling. Ive hovered over a casing and lifted it toward the light. His hands trembled with panic as his eyes glimpsed small deviations from his design specifications. He abruptly rose and left the group, upset.
Ive held an aluminum sheet above his head and rolled it beneath the overhead lights, showing Forlenza how the reflection revealed almost imperceptible blemishes. He wanted them eliminated. Forlenza explained the problem to the supplier, and when the group returned two weeks later to review the part again, the blemishes were gone.
Ive ratcheted up scrutiny of the supply chain as Apple’s product line expanded. When SARS broke out in 2003, the company was preparing to produce its first desktop made of aluminum, the Power Mac G5. The tower computer was the width and height of a paper grocery bag with smooth aluminum sides framed by front and rear panels that featured tiny holes like those in a citrus zester. Ive wanted to be there as it rolled off the assembly line, so he and members of the operations team flew to Hong Kong on some of the first post-SARS flights. They then headed to Shenzhen, where Ive spent the next forty days sleeping in the factory dormitory and walking the manufacturing floor. He could be intense as he surveyed an assembly line. During the assembly process, he would grab colleagues and point at a factory worker who was crudely handling parts.
“I don’t want him touching our products,” he would say. “Look at how’s he’s touching the side of it!”
Before being appointed to succeed Jeff Bezos and lead Amazon, Andy Jassy was the CEO of AWS, which he helped build from the ground up, and involved in every aspect of the division. He reviewed every press release and had input in branding decisions. He personally spent time picking artists for an AWS event in 2012 as well as took weeks to settle on the name Redshift for the new data analytics product. When there was a major outage at an AWS data center in Virginia, Andy personally got involved to figure out the problem. As it turned out, it was a fluke. While checking in a generator, a technician shut the door and accidentally turned off the generator. To keep employees to a standard that he subscribes to, Andy regularly holds meetings to pick teams, at random, to give a presentation on their business and fires pointed questions. Unprepared teams will be called out.
Toto Wolff is a team principal managing the Formula 1 Mercedes team. Under Toto’s leadership, Mercedes won 8 consecutive constructor titles and 7 driver championships between 2014 and 2021, establishing the dominance unrivaled in a sport as tough as Formula 1. In addition to many great leadership traits, Toto is also a stickler for the smallest of details. On his first trip to the Mercedes team’s headquarters in Brackley, England, Toto noticed a crumpled newspapers and two old paper coffee cups on a table in the lobby. After his meeting with the previous team principal, whom he replaced, Toto brought up his observation and said that it was below the standard of an F1 team to have a lobby like that. In another instance, Toto was upset about how dirty the bathroom in Mercedes’s hospitality area was the first team he visited. He hired a full-time hygiene manager, physically showed the manager how he wanted the bathroom cleaned and ordered the manager to keep the bathroom spotless after every guest on a race weekend.
F1 is a sport of details. Every race, drivers and their engineers analyze telemetry data like below to find out which MINI sectors and corners they lost lap time. Every thousandth of a second can determine a race’s pole and often a race win. Lewis Hamilton, the 7-time world champion, noticed others drivers were wearing fewer cables and as a result having an advantage of probably a few grams. He relayed that feedback to his team so that they could look into doing the same. Back when Lewis was still teammate with Nico Rosberg, Mercedes changed their drivers’ gloves and the way they were sewn so that they could get better race starts.
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