Why Steve Jobs' Emails Should Be a CEO Habit

By Mike Schuster  MAR 25, 2010 2:10 PM

Apple is doing it right. A communicative leader shouldn't evoke shock or be congratulated.


It must be a slow quarter for the normally cagey Steve Jobs. The Apple (AAPL) CEO has been firing off direct emails at a steady clip to Apple users who had queries about a variety of company products. And of those emails, nearly a dozen have made their way to tech blogs, shared and displayed like scholastic honors by Apple fans who feel as if they've been touched by a deity.

Using his iPhone and his newly minted iPad, Jobs responded to questions regarding iPad tethering, Google Docs (GOOG) compatibility, and chronic issues with iMac displays. But in the style of the verbally succinct Gary Cooper, Jobs keeps his replies brief and to the point -- often limiting them to one word in the body and a first name as the signature.

Italian blogger Andrea Nepori emailed Jobs to ask if the iPad would be able to support non-DRM e-books acquired from other sources. The Apple chief's reply: "Yep."

Swedish DJ Jezper Söderlund asked if the iPad could be tethered to his iPhone, working off the smartphone's data plan. Jobs' reply: "No."

Impressed with the iPad's photo app, a British Apple user wondered if the device would support Google's Picasa albums and facial recognition feature. The Almighty's reply: "No, but iPhoto on the Mac has much better Faces and Places features." It appears Jobs set some tasks aside to give the sender a lengthier reply -- if it meant taking a dig at Google.

Naturally, to be given a personal response by the Apple kingpin will incite a variety of emotions.

Disbelief: Nepori told The Los Angeles Times that he wasn't expecting a reply and mused, "I don't know if it's Steve. I don't think so."

Gratitude: After receiving a cease and desist notice from Apple over his iPodRip program, software developer John Devor emailed Jobs, Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, and Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller. Jobs responded, "Change your apps name. Not that big of a deal. Steve." After the email circulated the Web, Devor noted to the Times, "It actually ended up helping us because we got so much press."

Spiritual transcendence: 14-year-old Robert Mozayeni received a response from Jobs after asking the CEO if Google documents can be easily transferred to Apple's iWork. "It was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to me," the youth glowed. "That one word, 'Yes,' made me more happy than any other occurrence in my life."

Granted, he's 14. But should a personalized message from a company head garner so much shock, significance, and excitement? Shouldn't the occasional correspondence between a customer and CEO be the norm, not the exception?

Chief executives will go out of their way to keep a wall between themselves and the public. Very rarely will a work email be readily available, and when a consumer advocacy site like Consumerist posts a CEO's contact, occasionally there's a problem.

Consumerist often posts executive contacts for companies like Home Depot (HD), Microsoft (MSFT), TiVo (TIVO), and Capital One (COF). And in February, the site posted Sony (SNE) CEO Jack Tretton's work email address as a gift to frustrated PlayStation owners. Sony, however, wasn't pleased. They responded:
Can you please remove the email you listed for Jack Tretton from your website? If you would like to have your readers contact us directly, you can send them to a variety of places, of which I've listed a few below. Not sure what you gain by posting what you think is Jack's email directly -- it can and will confuse your readers.

But being in their rights and knowing an address next to a name is hardly confusing, Consumerist refused.

Not unexpectedly, CEO correspondence isn't an issue with heads of social networks -- where connectivity is paramount. Twitter CEO Evan Williams regularly messages fellow users. Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg communicates with members and shares company updates on his fan page. Heck, MySpace (NWS) co-founder Tom Anderson was automatically your friend when you signed up for the service.

Nevertheless, like a message from Jobs, a response from a major corporate chief like Target's (TGT) Gregg Steinhafel is considered a miracle.

It's understandable that a CEO wouldn't be able to respond to every query, comment, and complaint, but an occasional correspondence does wonders for a brand’s image. It lets consumers know that not only is someone listening to their concerns, but the very head of a company is taking them under consideration. It puts a face to a faceless corporation.

So while it's now a reason to celebrate when Steve Jobs sends off a one-word reply to a question, if CEOs cared the least bit about a company's image, they'd render that a routine inbox filler in due time.
No positions in stocks mentioned.