Is Richard Branson Claiming He, Not Steve Jobs, Invented iPod And iTunes?

Sir Richard Branson, not Steve Jobs invented Apple iTunes and the iPod, this according to the Virgin boss.

It sounds like a far-fetched idea, one that, if true, would rewrite history as it’s been recorded and delivered in the oral tradition of technology revolutions.

The Independent wrote about the startling claim Richard Branson made and the regret he has in not moving ahead with his own transformative idea. Had he done so, Branson reasoned it could have saved his once-thriving Virgin retail stores.

“On April Fool’s Day 1986 I gave an interview to a big-name music publication and told them that Virgin had been secretly developing a ‘Music Box,’ on which we had stored every music track we could lay our hands on, and from which music lovers would, for a small fee, be able to download any individual song or album they wanted.

“Many years later Steve Jobs told me he had been utterly taken in by the idea. While we will never know for sure, I have always wondered if the April Fool’s prank triggered the birth of iTunes and the iPod – which ironically contributed to the death of our Virgin Megastores and changed the entire music industry.”

Richard Branson started Virgin in 1976, and Jobs launched iTunes in October of 2001. Eight months later, the first iPod was sold by Apple. Less than a decade later, Sir Branson’s chains were defunct. Undoubtedly, Jobs’ innovations brought about a paradigm shift in how consumers interact with music.

Branson pointed out stark differences in he and Jobs’ style of management. The pair didn’t feud publicly, but some suggest the two company heads had their share of professional struggles. However, the Virgin Group founder went on record a number of years ago by admitting he was not fond of how Jobs yelled at subordinates at times when they were under-performing. Nonetheless, the billionaire Branson still thought the tech entrepreneur was one of the best in his class.

“Steve Jobs’s leadership style was autocratic; he had a meticulous eye for detail, and surrounded himself with like-minded people to follow his lead. While he was incredibly demanding of his people, he wasn’t the best delegator – he wanted to involve himself in every detail, which is the opposite of my own approach. Personally, I have always believed in the art of delegation – finding the best possible people for Virgin and giving them the freedom and encouragement to flourish. When I set up Virgin Records, I even decided to separate myself physically from the company, by moving into a houseboat.”

Although Jobs was a micro-manager in many ways, it was his attention to human detail that rallied others to be the best they could be. The late Apple boss had a knack for inspiring others to tap into their creative genius, and if being at the epicenter was unusual, even frowned upon by many, Branson realizes that it was perhaps the single-most reason why Apple has grown to be one of the most respected global brands.

“Steve Jobs wasn’t known for his sense of fun, but he was always at the center of everything Apple did. Over his extraordinary career, he learnt the same lesson I have – that even when you’re successful, it is vital that you don’t solely lead your company from a distance. Walk the floor, get to know your people. Even though I don’t run Virgin’s companies on a day-to-day basis any more, I still find it crucial to get out and about among our staff.”

It’s unknown if Richard Branson, not Steve Job, invented Apple iTunes and the iPod, but the eccentric Virgin chair is known to have a flair for storytelling and pushing the envelope. The Apple co-founder is not here to tell his side of the story, but for now, it sure makes for a good read.

[Image via: Penninkhof.com]