There are exceptions, but history shows us that very few rockstars— however we wish to define them– share the stage with other rockstars. Lennon and McCartney broke up. Hillary and Bill are still around, fading fast.
Since Apple started life back in the mid-1970s, the company has had few rockstars. Co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, yes. CEOs of the past? No. Jobs’ reign as the company rockstar ran from his return in 1997 to his death in 2011. He built a rockstar culture that is dying.
Corporate cultures may live on for decades after a founder departs, but change is inevitable and with design chief Jony Ive’s coming departure, Apple’s rockstar culture is absent a leader and that means a slow decay and eventual death.
Jobs and Ive were a team, and, for good or bad, better or worse, both were involved in every design and product decision of the past two decades. The hits may not be long in number– Apple Stores, iTunes, iPod and iTunes Music Store, iPhone and iPad (and Apple Watch for Ive)– but they helped to redirect and reshape entire industries.
Jonny Ive took over all design, including user interface, and his departure means more change is on the way. Change is what happens when rockstars leave. Change is what happens when a rockstar culture begins to fade away.
Jobs and Ive ran Apple’s product designs the way a single judge’s vote can decide cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling. Rockstars, yes, but not infallible. Remember The Cube? How about the original iMac’s hockey puck mouse?
The butterfly keyboard for Mac notebooks was designed so the Mac could be ever thinner. Need to swap out a battery? Take it to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store and pick up a second mortgage on the way. More recently, iMac users found Magic Mouse could not be used while charging because the charger connector was on the bottom instead of the end.
Two words: Mac Pro (the trash can model).
Rockstars are fallible.
Tim Cook heads Apple’s Leadership team and he’s more of a public nerd than a corporate rockstar; an executive seemingly more interested in profits and stock price than in designs that customers want and need.
Two words: iPhone SE (I count SE as a single word).
The rest of the executive profiles are made up of mostly career diplomats who have little public persona, and there is no one to guide the rockstar culture that Jobs built.
Yes, things change. It will take time to see how the most recent changes– and those to come– impact Apple’s culture and products, but I, for one, would like to see an iPhone that will fit into my butt pocket (I’m tall so they fit into my hand with ease), and a Mac keyboard that works all the time, and a notebook battery than I can swap out myself.