Lessons from influential entrepreneurs

Discover the inspiring lessons we can learn from brilliant minds of our time like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk in our latest podcast episode. We'll explore the traits and habits that have led these entrepreneurs to success and share insights on how you can apply them in your own life.

Ashleay: Hello and welcome to iA Financial Group's “In Your Interest” podcast. My name is Ashleay and as usual, I'm here with our financial expert, Sébastien McMahon. Hi, Sébastien.

Sébastien: Hello, Ashleay.

Ashleay: So, this week we’re talking about successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk and what we can learn from them. So, a few weeks ago, a new biography of Elon Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX, among others, was published, and you told me that there were several good lessons to be learned for entrepreneurs. By the way, if I'm not mistaken, the author of this biography also published a book on Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple.

Sébastien: Yes, you are right.

Ashleay: Aha! And so, first of all, can you sum up how these two people made their mark?

Sébastien: For sure. So, everyone who loves technology, any technology enthusiasts out there will know for sure who Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are. They are two of the most exceptionally successful entrepreneurs of all time. Of course, Mr. Jobs founded Apple out of his garage and now it's the largest company on planet Earth in terms of market cap. Mr. Musk, of course, founded SpaceX, was one of the early investors in Tesla, but brought it to what we know right now. So, they've created and improved products of key importance like personal computers, smartphones, electric cars, rockets, all the cool stuff is behind these two, these two people and who are also, of course, controversial figures in terms of their personalities. So, we won't, you know, make apologies for the people, but let's look more at the lessons that we can take from these successful entrepreneurs and if there are some things that anyone could apply in their field of business.

Ashleay: Absolutely. And indeed, I think people either love or hate these two characters, but they leave no one indifferent and they've accomplished immense things in the business world. So, shall we go in chronological order, say, and start with Steve Jobs? 

Sébastien: Yes, let's do that. So, Steve Jobs was a fascinating entrepreneur and business leader and he inspired a horde of leaders before and even after his death in 2011. So, Steve Jobs’ genius was more in product design and marketing. He is not the one who invented the personal computer or the iPhone, but he, as he used to say, is someone who's good at playing the orchestra. So, he was able to bring everything together. So, the first lesson would be this: I think it’s an important one, is to use your left brain as much as your right brain. So, in other words, make your products connect with your customers’ emotions. Steve Jobs had a wide range of interests and a particular affection for the arts, and he often spoke of positioning Apple, a very large company, at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, which made Apple products accessible and, quote, “very cool” to billions of people.

Ashleay: Yeah, absolutely. When I was in university, I was studying graphic design, so Apple was kind of right up there. We wanted that design there.

Sébastien: Yeah, of course, of course. And you know, the second lesson is simplify rather than complicate. And at Apple they used to say that design is not how things look, it's how things work. So, I don't know if you've had this experience, but when the iPad was invented, my youngest daughter, she was still a baby, still in a stroller, and we went to the Apple store. And very intuitively, if we put, you know, a child's game on there, like I think it was a puzzle game, she was able to start playing with it without any instructions. It was very intuitive. So, there's something magic in that. And, you know, a quote that I like from Steve Jobs, and here I'm starting to quote here, "It takes a lot of work to make something simple, to really understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions," end quote.

Ashleay: Absolutely. And that reminds me of ballet, right? If you look at it, it looks so easy, so simple, so. And then you try it and then.

Sébastien: Yeah. And then you hurt yourself.

Ashleay: Yeah. There you go.

Sébastien: And then things degenerate from there. Yeah. And the third lesson would be to think in terms of products and not in terms of profits. So, satisfy customers first with attractive products and the profits will follow. Or in other words, offer the world the products that you would like to see on the shelf. Lesson four here it applies to every field. Surround yourself with only the best talent. So, when you surround yourself with smart people, this brings everyone closer to excellence. And Apple structure wasn’t quite flat for a company of its size, with a group of strong leaders who were given great responsibility. So rather than spreading the business lines across complex hierarchical structure, Mr. Jobs instead had a very tight group of strong leaders to drive the company. And maybe the last one, you know, everyone remembers the old ads from Apple and if not, if you're too young for that, go on YouTube, see that, you know, “to those who are, to the crazy ones, the outsiders”, you know, the ones that started like that, you know, you'll find something that was very interesting. It's a celebration of difference, not trying to be like everyone else. So, Apple, as a company, was in the image of its founder trying to have, first, things that are different and innovative.

Ashleay: So, the success of Steve Jobs and Apple, which eventually became the world's biggest company at one point, is quite impressive. And it's true that it takes a lot of exceptional people to achieve so much in the business and cultural worlds. So, what about Elon Musk, the man who was once the richest man in the world and who really doesn't always get talked about for the right reasons?

Sébastien: Yeah, sure. And I think he's still the richest man in the world, I'm not following the top ten there, but let's keep Twitter and X, now X, out of the equation and look at Tesla and SpaceX here. So, the secret of these two companies stems largely from Elon Musk's approach to engineering. And Mr. Musk always defines himself first as an engineer and then as a business leader. And, you know, his approach to attacking problems is something that is called a first principles approach. So, you know, just breaking down problems into their smallest parts and then coming up with innovative solutions. This is how he was able to make electric cars so quote “inexpensive”, you know, was able to reduce the cost of this technology. That's why he's able to send rockets into space at a fraction of the cost of what it used to cost before SpaceX was a company. So, this approach here of first principles is the key to everything that he does. Another lesson is to solve problems rather than chase money. And it's a very interesting point to make about someone who became the richest person in the world. But one of the lessons here is that the world tends to reward problem solvers. And, you know, you can't be more, let's say, ambitious than Mr. Musk because he doesn't try to build cool products or to build a big company. He's trying to preserve the human race by making sure that we become multi-planetary. He's trying to save the planet Earth by bringing, making accessible electric transportation. So those are his ambitions. And well, he was successful at that and the money came. And maybe another lesson would be to persevere when the going gets rough.

Ashleay: Yeah, absolutely. He didn’t always have it as easy as people might think.

Sébastien: No no, no, no no. He started from nothing, created a company which was called Zip2 and he was eventually ousted as a CEO. The company was sold. He made, if I remember correctly, about $22 million from that, invested everything into something else that became eventually PayPal. He was ousted as the CEO then too. And then when that was sold he made about $200 something million dollars. And then he said, well, what can I do now? Well, electric cars and rockets, of course, like everyone would do.

Ashleay: Like everyone would do, right, the rockets.

Sébastien: Yeah, and then after that, in 2008, he pretty much, he was very close, a few hours away from going bankrupt. After that, you know, he was able to find investors when the production of Model 3 was needing to ramp up, you know, to bring the company to be, you know, a major player in terms of car volume. He had to live on the factory line to make sure that the company was able to ramp up production. But again, they were very close to having some deep financial issues where he would have also lost a lot of money then. So, it takes a lot of hard work and lots of determination to change the world.

Ashleay: Absolutely.

Sébastien: And maybe the last lesson, my favourite one…

Ashleay: Me too!

Sébastien: …will be to yeah, learn constantly and read books. Alright, Elon Musk, and this is something that is in the book, Mr. Musk says that he knew pretty much nothing about aerospace before he started SpaceX. It was just an interest to him. And he read the books. He talked to the right people and learned how to build rockets. He didn't know much about the workings of the human brain before launching Neuralink, which is another of his endeavors. I also encourage everyone to take a look at what they do. It's pretty spectacular. They didn't know much about the mass production of automobiles before launching Tesla, and as he always says, well, all of mankind's knowledge is available all around you in books or on the web. Of course, not everyone is as smart or dedicated as him. I mean, I wouldn't try to learn rocket science by myself, but as you always say, you don't have to go to university to perfect your knowledge. If you want to learn something, you can read about it right now.

Ashleay: Absolutely. Very inspiring. Thank you Sébastien, and thanks to all our listeners at home. And I am off to the bookshop. I will buy a new book. Love this podcast? Want to know more about economic news? Follow our In Your Interest podcast, available on all platforms, visit the economic news page on ia.ca or follow us on social media.


Sébastien has nearly 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors. In addition to his roles as Chief Strategist and Senior Economist, he is an iAGAM portfolio manager and a member of the firm’s Asset Allocation Committee. All of these roles allow him to put his passion for numbers, words, and communication to good use. Sébastien also acts as iA Financial Group’s spokesperson and guest speaker on economic and financial matters. Before joining iA in 2013, he held various economic roles at the Autorité des marchés financiers, Desjardins, and the Québec ministry of finance. He completed a master’s degree and doctoral studies in economics at Laval University and is a CFA charterholder.

Sébastien Mc Mahon

Vice-President, Asset Allocation, Chief Strategist, Senior Economist, and Portfolio Manager

This podcast should not be copied or reproduced. Opinions expressed in this podcast are based on actual market conditions and may change without prior warning. The aim is in no way to make investment recommendations. The forecasts given in this podcast do not guarantee returns and imply risks, uncertainty and assumptions. Although we are comfortable with these assumptions, there is no guarantee that they will be confirmed.

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2024-04-18 11:21 EDT
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