Mastering Strategy

The careers of superstar CEOs Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs offer important lessons about how to become a better strategist.

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Many discussions of strategy revolve around companies. But what about the people who develop corporate strategies? How can executives develop their skills as strategists?

There’s no better way than to learn from the masters. That’s the idea behind a recent book by David B. Yoffie, the Max and Doris Starr Professor of International Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and Michael A. Cusumano, the Sloan Management Review Distinguished Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Both men are experts in business strategy — they’ve been teaching the subject for nearly 30 years at Harvard and MIT, respectively. What’s more, Yoffie and Cusumano have studied or worked closely with some of the world’s leading technology executives. In their book, Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons From Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs (HarperCollins, 2015), Yoffie and Cusumano explore strategy insights drawn from the careers of the former CEOs of Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., and Apple Inc.

MIT Sloan Management Review editorial director Martha E. Mangelsdorf spoke with Yoffie and Cusumano about what executives can learn from Gates, Grove, and Jobs about mastering the art of strategy. What follows is an edited and condensed version of that conversation.

MIT Sloan Management Review: Your book “Strategy Rules” looks at strategy lessons from three iconic CEOs from the computer industry: Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs. What made you choose those three CEOs to write about?

Yoffie: There are several reasons for choosing these three. First and foremost, all three of the companies they led — Microsoft, Intel, and Apple — became the most valuable company in the world at some point. We were looking at three companies where we believed it was undisputed that the three individual CEOs had accomplished an extraordinary amount over their careers.

Second, we had spent a lot of time working with or observing all three of these individuals. We knew them, their records, and their companies extremely well. And by identifying three executives whose legacy as CEO was complete — and where the companies they led had continued to perform well after their departure — we could capture a more complete picture.


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Comments (4)
Mni Nomnga
Strategy involve set of choices and I think all three made clear choices about where they will play in their industry i.e Gates in the software (operating system), Grove in the micro processor (Intel inside). They were all futurists who could figure out the future of their industry and take actions now. Professor Clay Christensen narates a story where he was invited by Andy Grove to teach the Intel executives about the theory of disruptive innovation, Whilst Grove was interested in the nittyy grittys of the theory, he wanted to understand what it meant for the microprocessor industry and Intel in particular. Needless to say, it meant that Intel had to launch a low end product called celeron to fend of disruptive products. I think anchring the companies around the strengths of the founders helped and will always help any company
Gitanjali Mohanty
All three masters have successfully segregated the areas which are scale-friendly and innovation-friendly and surged ahead.
Benny Sweeney
Very interesting article.  Strategies from each of the three gurus are well explained, so easily understood. Great insight into how their minds worked.
Great learning!!!!!