Sep 02 2011

Can Apple Stay On Top Without Jobs?

Published by at 1:06 pm under Idea Driven Marketing

That, of course, is the big question that everyone has been asking following the recent resignation of Steve Jobs, the iconic founder, savior, and CEO of Apple, and now the deified business and cultural figure. (Am I the only person who felt the gushing stories about Jobs’ God-like qualities were way over the top?! Probably. There are a lot of Apple fan-boys and girls out there, and now everyone is jumping on the Jobs bandwagon.)

First, let me say the obvious. Jobs was (still is) a brilliant business leader, consumer product visionary, and creative genius. (Don’t forget, Jobs still is Chairman of Apple…but given his health, the question is, how long?) I have the highest respect for what Jobs accomplished with Apple, even though I have never owned an Apple product.

Over the years, I have also been turned off by Jobs’  famous arrogance and “Apple can do whatever it wants” attitude. That included breaking the law (the infamous options back-dating scandals) and the obsessive secrecy — to name just a few transgressions. Jobs is famous for being a total pain in the ass, “my way or the highway” kind of leader. He has/had no problem with eviscerating colleagues in public. I find that to be reprehensible in a leader (business or other wise), but I guess that is one of the things that made him successful.

The fact is, Jobs made Apple and himself hugely successful by breaking and/or ignoring nearly every management rule in the book. He eschewed consensus, treated people badly, micro-managed, did it only his way, acted like he was above the rules (including the law, in some cases), and steam-rolled over everyone — partners and colleagues alike.

Yes, despite all of that, Jobs was and is beloved. He was a larger than life cult figure in business, technology, media, and consumer design. And therein lies the big problem for Apple going forward. When you build and operate your company around a CEO cult, when that CEO departs, sustaining the same level of performance and success is very hard. In my view, Apple is going to have a very tough time coming up with the same product and marketing hits, because they won’t have the cult of Jobs to push (and bully) it all through.

To be sure, Jobs’ successor as Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is an able and respected business leader in his own right. And, clearly he had a lot to do with Apple’s success over these past years. But, Cook is still no Steve Jobs. No one else is or could be. And that is the big problem for Apple.

I agree with those pundits who predict that Apple will do fine for the next couple of years (especially as the company’s product pipeline is already set), but the future after that is a toss up. Apple will try to paint a different picture, but the fact is that the company is now being run by mortal human beings — just like its competition.

Without Steve Jobs’ remarkable vision, single-minded passion, and bullying presence (and the admiration and fear that he created),  Apple will have to make do with just making great products. It will never be the same.

A genuine business Icon steps aside.

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