Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs announced (via email) to company employees that he had cancer surgery Sunday to remove a tumor from his pancreas. Prognosis? Good. Steve said he’d take off the month of August and be back at work in September. No chemo or radiation would be required. A full recovery is expected.
Consider this a wake up call. Whither Steve goes, so goes Apple. From the beginning, Steve Jobs has been the driving force behind one of the most creative and colorful American technology companies ever. When Steve was forced out after launching the original Mac back in the mid-80s, Apple’s sales grew for a number of years (thanks to sugar water salesman and Steve’s hand-picked successor, John Sculley) but the company eventually lost its way, stumbled, and had to be rescued.
Computer users everywhere should be thankful that Steve was there to bring something back to Apple and bring Apple back from the brink.
Jobs came back in 1997 and the company once again is innovating well beyond the competition. Apple product owners are “cool” again (we always were “cool” but sometimes in the shadows of Windows), the products are cool again, and everything is selling well.
So, does Apple need a successor to Steve Jobs?
Yes. At 49, Jobs is relatively healthy (cancer surgery notwithstanding), a noted vegetarian, and, by all accounts maintains a very sane day-to-day schedule and family life while running both Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios. Still, the current and future value of the company, perhaps both companies, is too heavily intertwined with Jobs’ fate.
That must change.
If the CEO of Coca-Cola, or GM, or American Express, were to die during an emergency surgery, would Wall Street notice? Perhaps, but all those companies maintain a succession strategy and have a short list of mature executives waiting in the wings, on call as needed. Does anyone reading this even know who runs those companies?
If Jobs goes away, who runs the show at Apple?
Who has the charisma, marketing savvy, and technology understanding of Steve Jobs? Is Apple such a different company that it requires a “different” kind of leader? Could anyone on the current executive team step in, walk in Steve’s shoes, and still keep that big train on track, on course, and with a full head of steam?
Maybe, though, isn’t sufficient. So much of Steve Jobs shows up in Apple that perhaps the two have become one and the same. We talk of Jobs’ renowned keynote addresses where he introduces new products as “Steve-notes.”
Jobs’ infamous “reality distortion field” (RDF) actually changes time, erases memories, and bridges the gulfs between new product announcements, scheduled new product delivery dates, and actual product deliveries.
Name another CEO of a major technology company that gets away with what Steve Jobs does?
And we love him for it. We love Apple. We love Macs. We love the way Apple’s products work. We love the drama. We can’t wait for more.
Although some media folks noted that Steve didn’t look good in recent appearances, his announcement of the cancer surgery on Sunday came as a big surprise. Steve Jobs eventual departure from the company he co-founded in 1979 (25 years ago, folks) should not ever come as a surprise.
For the sake of customers, shareholders, and the technology industry, succession of his magnitude should be planned, orchestrated appropriately, perhaps even expected.
Who should succeed Steve Jobs?
To be sure, Steve didn’t bring about Apple’s recent successes with Mac OS X, G5s, iPod, iTunes, iTunes Music Store, iLife applications, pro applications, and the many products and innovations single handedly. It’s been a team effort since Apple bought Job’s NeXT Computer, Inc. back in late 1996, and Jobs took over as then interim-CEO in mid 1997.
The management team at Apple is considered, by most observers, as one of the best in the industry. From the brilliant Avie Tevanian (brain child behind the Mach kernel and Mac OS X) who hooked up with Jobs back in 1985 at NeXT, to Jon Rubenstein, once head of all Apple hardware, to recently departed CFO and now Board member Fred Anderson, and executive VP Tim Cook, Apple’s top tier team is seasoned, experienced, and work well together.
For the month Jobs needs to recuperate from surgery, Tim Cook has been appointed to handle day-to-day operations. Is Cook up to the task? For awhile. Most Apple insiders would agree with a resounding, “yes!” For now.
Is Cook the heir apparent and is Apple beginning the proper steps to set succession in motion?
The former remains to be seen and the latter must happen.
Few companies of the size and influence of Apple Computer have a co-founder and current CEO still running the company 25 years later (there are exceptions… can you say “Microsoft?”). Few companies have their CEO’s personality, style, and “chutzpuh” so ingrained into the company culture, company products, company legend, and, perhaps company future.
For long term viability, that’s probably dangerous; for Apple, for their products, for customers, certainly for shareholders who continue to drive Apple’s stock price in a pleasantly upward direction.
What happens when something bad happens to Steve Jobs?
Back in 1985 boardroom politics got Steve booted, somewhat un-ceremoniously, from the company he founded with Steve Wozniak. Computers themselves were selling like hotcakes, everyone was a buyer, and hardly anyone in the public noticed or cared when Jobs left and started NeXT.
If Steve Jobs were to leave now, unexpectedly, disastrously, through illness or politics (Steve in a Kerry Administration post?) or whatever for whatever reason, Apple could be damaged.
That’s why a succession plan is important. That’s why Steve should take a lower and lower profile at Apple for the next few years. While we enjoy the “rock star” of technology and what he brings to Apple (and how he sticks it to Microsoft from time to time), and the products Apple brings to market, it’s important for Apple (and Steve) to be as disciplined toward succession as they have been running Apple the past seven years (not many product disasters or goofs, huh?).
The current team would appear to be capable of keeping Apple on the right track for a few more years. The toll of long days and stress, and the desire to “cash in” on the wealth they’ve been building will be there.
Who’s waiting in the wings?
Who’s the next Steve Jobs for Apple Computer?
Admittedly, I don’t have an answer for that. I wish I did. I wish Tim Cook well (I hope he speeds up my dual 2.5 ghz PowerMac G5 order, now delayed). I wish Steve Jobs a full and quick recovery.
For the sake of the 90-percent of computer users who don’t know about the benefits of Mac and Apple ownership, the technology world needs a healthy, sane, energetic Steve Jobs.
We also need a Steve Jobs pinch hitter who can step up to bat, take a place in the lineup, and perhaps be the leader of the team.