On May 29, 1983, the hard rock band Van Halen headlined “Heavy Metal Day” during the US Festival in San Bernardino, CA. They were paid an unprecedented $1.5 Million for a 90 minute performance, creating a new Guinness World Record in the process. The event was organized by the co-founder of Apple Computers, Steve Wozniak, who used his own personal fortune to produce the 3 day music festival, (Van Halen’s ‘US Festival’ Concert Revisited 2020). But while there was no special significance to the relationship between Apple Computers and Van Halen at that time, we can observe historical parallels between leadership transitions in both entities. Van Halen eventually switched lead singers from the charismatic, headstrong David Lee Roth to the more mature steady hand of Sammy Hagar. Hagar later confirmed in an interview on the Opie & Anthony show that he and Roth respectively led the band during their tenures. “Dave ran the band, you know. Straight up. I found that out after I got in the band. Dave ran that band. And then I ran that band. And then when I left, it’s like, under the brothers’ guidance, it kind of went all over the place,” [OpieRadio, 2015]. Likewise, upon his death in 2011, outspoken, charismatic Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs was replaced by the more subdued, managerial Tim Cook. Both stories are a lesson in success after a change in leadership styles. Contingency leadership is a group of different leadership theories that aim to place the right leader into the right situation, understanding that different situations call for different approaches. We will here apply that theory to these organizations.
After a 12 year absence from Apple between 1985 and 1997, Steve Jobs took over a struggling company with a mandate to revive it from the brink of death. He was able to identify a variety of areas where Apple needed immediate improvement. As one example, the company had become unfocused, producing too many versions of too many products including 12 different versions of their flagship Macintosh computer. Jobs simplified and focused efforts by drawing a 2 X 2 grid with the words “Home” and “Business” atop the two columns and “Desktop” and “Portable” next to the two rows. In doing so, he focused the company on just 4 products that they could then excel at, (Isaacson, 2014). This marked a much needed departure from the previous leadership and allowed the designers to put their energy into quality over quantity. But possibly as important as his executive talents was Jobs’ personality and drive. He was passionate and confident to an extreme, arguably narcisistic. This became contagious and helped set the tone that drove the company to eventually become the largest in the world. (Team, 2019). After imbuing Apple with a new purpose and drive, Steve Jobs took the company from just over $7 billion in revenue in 1997 to over $108 billion in 2011, (Rathore, 2020). In 2011, he succumbed to pancreatic cancer, leaving Apple in the hands of Tim Cook, a very different type of leader.
In the late 1970’s, a new, hard rock band burst onto the music scene with high energy, showmanship and raw musical talent. While founded by the namesake brothers Edward and Alex Van Halen, the band was led by the flamboyant vocalist David Lee Roth; a man with rare charisma that helped draw giant crowds to their live performances and created a buzz that allowed them to stand out from the crowd and gain popularity in an incredibly competitive business. By the mid-1980’s, Van Halen was one of the most successful music acts in the world. Their album 1984 eventually sold more than 10 million copies. And just as they were achieving success far surpassing what most bands ever dream of, it almost all fell apart. David Lee Roth left the band over creative differences and embarked on a solo career, (Erlewine, 2016). Music industry veteran and successful solo artist Sammy Hagar would step in to fill the void.
In 2019, Apple recorded revenues of over $260 billion, roughly 2.5 times that of the heights reached under Steve Jobs’ leadership. And while we can partially credit Jobs’ boisterous, charismatic leadership for turning around the fortunes at Apple, Cook’s subdued, steady hand have helped guide it much further. Whereas Jobs took over a company that was floundering and desperately needed focus and drive, Cook took over a thriving company that needed steady management and clear thinking. Tim Cook could be described as humble and transparent. He’s far quieter and spends more time listening than speaking. He has built a stellar executive team around himself and allows them to thrive in what they do, (Tuck, 2018). While Steve Jobs was the right person to reinvigorate and guide Apple in 1997, Tim Cook was the right leader to take over the reins in 2011.
When Sammy Hagar stepped in to fill David Lee Roth’s shoes, the music world was hesitant. Rarely have bands replaced a lead singers at the height of popularity without diminishing success. Roth’s overpowering personality would be difficult to match. Hagar had already achieved substantial success with previous bands and as a solo artist, but now he stepped into the role as frontman for one of the most successful bands in the world, already at their peak. Rather than attempting to match Roth’s showmanship, Hagar drew on his own strengths as a musician, singer, and businessman. Seven year’s Roth’s senior, Hagar brought much needed maturity and guidance to the group of younger musicians. The next 10 years would bring this new lineup four new albums, each hitting #1 on the Billboard charts along with six world tours. Rather than faltering, Van Halen’s success remained steady during this time. Interpersonal squabbles once again put an end to this team, but the lesson seems to be that David Lee Roth was the right leader for the early days of the band, bringing them much needed attention while Sammy Hagar was the right man for the next iteration, providing a steady, reliable presence
While we may not normally think of rock bands as more than musical quartets, they are indeed a business enterprise unto themselves. In the case of Van Halen, both iterations relied on strong leader-member relations in that the lead singers didn’t technically carry a higher rank or authority. In the case of Apple, both leaders carried strong position power as well. But in both instances, the organizations thrived because they had the right leader at the right time, (Psych485, Lesson 6).
[OpieRadio]. (2015, September 15). @SammyHagar on ups and downs of Van Halen [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvVgJ8zUCjg&t=82s
V. (2020, May 29). Van Halen’s ‘US Festival’ Concert Revisited. Retrieved June 06, 2020, from https://www.vhnd.com/2014/05/29/the-us-festival-revisited/
Isaacson, W. (2014, October 29). The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs. Retrieved June 06, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-real-leadership-lessons-of-steve-jobs
Rathore, I. (2020, January 20). Apple Revenue by Year – From Fiscal 1993 to 2018. Retrieved June 06, 2020, from https://dazeinfo.com/2019/08/01/apple-revenue-by-year-worldwide-graphfarm/
Erlewine, S. (2016). Van Halen: Biography & History. Retrieved June 06, 2020, from https://www.allmusic.com/artist/van-halen-mn0000260206/biography
Team, I. (2019, December 06). Four Defining Steve Jobs Personality Traits. Retrieved June 06, 2020, from https://achieveiconic.com/success/four-defining-steve-jobs-personality-traits
Tuck, K. (2018, April 24). 11 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Tim Cook. Retrieved June 06, 2020, from https://strategicleaders.com/11-leadership-lessons-from-tim-cook/
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). Psych 485 Lesson 6: Contingency & Path-Goal Theories. Retrieved June 6, 2020, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2015147/modules/items/29089188