Apple’s Secret Weapons if Mr. Jobs Retires

| Hidden Dimensions

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”

— Anon

We all hope that this leave of absence by Mr. Jobs will be a short one and that he’ll spend many more years at the helm of Apple. If not, and Mr. Jobs retires, Apple will still be in good hands. The idea that Apple cannot function without him is a media myth, and, in fact, Apple has very capable people ready to lead the company.

The first thing to realize is this leave of absence is not a matter of absolutes. Without detracting a single gram from the major, major contributions by Mr. Jobs in his career at Apple, one has to also recognize that he has built a team of people who, collectively, can insure Apple’s future success.

For example, I have seen far too many articles that question whether Tim Cook, the prospective future CEO of Apple, has the insight, vision, and technology instincts that Mr Jobs has. Ergo, Apple is in trouble with Mr. Cook in charge.

I think that’s nonsense.

Think of Mr. Cook as the executive officer (second in command) of an aircraft carrier. He’s spent 10 years studying under the current skipper. He may not know how to repair a nuclear reactor or arm an F/A-18C, but he knows how to command people and the ship. He has smart, talented people who can give hm the critical info he needs to make decisions. His talented cast of people can advise him, even though the final decisions are his.

To say that no executive officer can ever step up the the level of the current, esteemed skipper is very short-sighted. In many cases, having trained under great leadership, they do take command and become great in their own right.

Agent 007

Secret Weapons

Apple, in a potential future without Steve Jobs, may function differently, but that doesn’t mean more poorly. Apple has a remarkably talented Sr. Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller. I’ve seen him in private meetings as well as his public presentations, and I know that he has the taste, experience, product instincts and presentation skills necessary to be a positive and effective force at Apple, even as Mr. Cook holds the steady hand at the helm of the ship as a future CEO. Mr. Schiller and Mr. Jobs go way back together, and to underestimate Mr. Schiller’s insights into what makes Apple, well, Apple, is a mistake. If anyone knows what makes Apple tick, it’s Mr. Schiller.

Another factor is the brilliance of Scott Forstall. Mr. Forstall has the experience to home in on the Next Big Thing, whatever that turns out to be. He has the feel for how Apple products ought to interface with human beings, and Mr. Jobs’s confidence in him is well placed. The same goes for Jonathan Ive and Bertrand Serlet.

Will these talented people suddenly take flight when Mr. Jobs retires? I think not. They are the emerging face of Apple, and while they may not have that special, charismatic personality of Steve Jobs … yet … it would be wrong to underestimate how they will blossom and emerge to shape and reshape Apple based on their years of study under the master.

Every executive officer of a ship is nervous when he takes over on that first day. Can he measure up? Will he make the same superb decisions? Can he think things through in stressful situations? But there comes a day when that second in command takes over and starts to earn his keep. He’ll bring his own unique personality, skills and temperament to the job. He won’t be an exact clone of the previous, beloved skipper. But the confidence the Navy has in him deems him ready to take command and lead.

The question we have before us is not whether anyone can ever duplicate Steve Jobs. That’s impossible. The real question is whether a seasoned team who trained under him for over a decade can assume command, bring their own unique skills to bear, and work as a functional team that carries on the tradition and excellence of Apple.

I believe they can and will, if and when the day comes when Mr. Jobs needs to retire.

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16 Comments Leave Your Own

Nemo

I am in full accord with John’s instant thesis and exposition.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John, the elephant in the room is Jobs’ abrasive style. Is it necessary for Apple’s success or was it just coincidental? For example, is the never ending App Store approval clusterfrak important to Apple’s success or just a coincidence? Calling out Adobe as lazy… Banning Flash and other 3rd party development tools from iOS… Current brewing trouble with Belch, er, Flemish publishers…

If Apple’s success is coincidental or in spite of these, you’re spot on. If it depended on these, you’re in for an age of darkness. In my opinion, that kind of garbage behavior is entirely personality driven. No group of people would ever come to that as a consensus. None of Apple’s back-benchers has a reputation of being, um, “mercurial”, and they’d never be given the space by press, competitors, or even customers to do that stuff.

ibuck

JM, my Dad was an XO of a Navy ship and I super-agree. The skipper (CO) is in charge, but it’s the Executive Officer who actually runs the ship. Granted, there is guidance from his superior, but the XO is the one who resolves any problems. So Tim Cook would seem to know very well how to run Apple when Jobs eventually leaves. And the other execs seem well suited to their jobs as well, and they have all been schooled by a CEO who pushes them to do their very best. That may seem abrasive to some, but the results have been pretty impressive.

John Martellaro

Bosco: I think it’s hard to argue that Apple’s continued success depends on some specific, and controversial, personality traits of Mr. Jobs.  Clearly, the skill and dedication of the whole company is the driver. So I think I’m spot on, as you say.

aardman

It may well be, or it may well be just wishful thinking on my part, that the next generation of Apple leadership will usher in another period of exponential growth because they are willing to look into products and markets that hitherto Mr. Jobs had just not considered or focused on.  Every person has limits to his vision or imagination.  Some people’s boundaries are just farther out than others’. 

I have very little doubt that the core of execs that will take over from Jobs will keep the innovation factory humming.  And they might even steer Apple down some totally unexpected avenues of success. —As long as they continue to work well with each other and not descend into a Microsoftian viper’s pit of turf protection and petty empire building.

farmboy

Uh-huh..it was Jobs’ “personality”—or was it his “abrasive style”, I can’t tell—that caused “garbage behavior” by others far removed from him, that was and is responsible for all the alleged “clusterfrak” acceptance decisions at the App Store. Yeah, that’s such a cute idea about how big corporations work. It’s one thing to say Jobs is hands-on; it’s quite another to say his fingerprints are on every application decision.

Flash on the Mac platform is crap, regardless of how widespread its use is. Jobs was right to call Adobe on it.

And of course, another entry (tho half-hearted) in the Apple is Doomed sweepstakes. Always like that one.

hangtown

I have mixed feelings about this. Comments like this from aardman scare me:

“that the next generation of Apple leadership will usher in another period of exponential growth because they are willing to look into products and markets that hitherto Mr. Jobs had just not considered or focused on.”

Apple has limited resources. We could tell when attention shifted from OS X to iOS. It was obvious. Introducing even more products and taking a shotgun approach to marketing are hardly what Apple needs. They have enough on their plate to keep iOS and OS X evolving, as well as to HOPEFULLY get MobileMe to the point where it is a useful, modern cloud service.

I do wonder who without Steve, the music and movie industries will ever make deals with Apple that are beneficial to Apple customers rather than just the studios. It’s the not Apple products per se that might suffer initially, but rather the infrastructure that is a large part of what gives Apple devices an advantage over iOS and Windows devices.

mhikl

Yes, you are spot on, John. Steve Jobs knows his weaknesses, both in health and personality. Looking back on his stage efforts over the years for his beloved Apple says it all. He may walk the walk that looks to be the same to some, but to those who bother to read his body language can see a true confidence emerge in his step with each passing event.

He has reigned over not just an empire of great products and ideas but the emergence of a great cohesive team that operates as a single player who have become embodied in the consummate stage presence of Steve Jobs. His persona on stage has greatly tempered (with the magic still intact) to the point that many in his team could run the show in his absence. His act is the bells and whistles of Apple, not its foundation.

Other corporations may be run by overpaid CEOs; Apple is run by team cohesion and that is the 21st Centruy?s way of successful companies. It may be the greatest Jobs? achievement of all.

Lee Dronick

“To say that no executive officer can ever step up the the level of the current, esteemed skipper is very short-sighted. In many cases, having trained under great leadership, they do take command and become great in their own right.”

I spent over 21 years in the Navy and I have seen an XO take command several times, they are chosen because they are qualified to be a Captain. Also as iBuck said, the XO is the one who takes care of things.

peter c

A good metaphor, John.

The one constant with Mr Jobs is his attention to detail in everything with which he has a personal interest. Another thing that can’t be argued is his love - and hence passion - for his company and what it is and does.

Put those together and you have to come to the conclusion that the probability is high, that he has made exceedingly diligent contingency plans for Apple’s continued successful management.

Apple is in many ways a child of California and like its home State, it is an idea rather than a thing. The creation of the idea that is Apple, implicitly required Steve Jobs. No one else could do it. Many people tried. But once an idea is out in the real world and has a life of its own, others can see, understand and perpetuate it.

Before Jobs the idea didn’t exist, now it does and that is the fundamentally important thing to remember in any discussion of Apple’s future, when compared with its past. Those associated with Jobs understand the idea that is Apple really, really well.

There’s a culture at Apple that is so unequivocal, that people who don’t fit, leave: from shop-assistants to the very top, as with Mr Papermaster. Mr Jobs is responsible for that embedded culture and it will endure, if the people his meticulous perfectionism has chosen and groomed, hang on to his great idea.

I can’t see that not happening any time soon.

Peter

Actually, Scott Forstall definitely has the personality to be the next Apple “Face.”  Keep in mind, I’m not talking about skills to run a company.

I remember, way back when, Scott talking about Classic, Carbon, and Cocoa.  He was clear and entertaining.  In fact, most of the time I’ve seen him talk, he can put on a show as well as Steve does.

Phil Schiller has that sleazy “salesman” feel about him.  As I’ve said before, Steve wears his heart on his sleeve and I think that’s part of what makes the “reality distortion field” work.  When Steve says, “This is the coolest thing ever,” you believe him.  Even the most jaded believe that he believes it.  Phil can’t pull that off, though he tries really hard.  I think that might be part of the problem.  He sounds like he’s reciting a line.

Bertrand Serlet?  Nah.  He’s amusing in a French sort of way, but he’s a Jean-Louis Gassée wanna-be without the personality and outrageousness.

I’ve never seen Tim Cook take the stage, but I picture him as being kind of like John Sculley—a good numbers guy but no vision.  Sculley was an incredibly boring speaker—when Bill Gates does a better job, you know you’re in trouble!

hangtown

Interesting. I always found Schiller boring but sincere and likable. Forstall came across as more insincere in a “let’s do lunch!” porsche driving kind of way.

wab95

John:

Brilliant analysis, appropriate analogy.

Not to paraphrase, but to paraphrase anyway from SJ himself, I do think there is ‘one more thing’ to factor in regarding Apple’s future with, and more importantly, without Steve Jobs. It is implicit in ‘peter c’s’ comment above about Apple being a ‘idea’.

Anyone who has ever built any operation knows that part of what makes its early life precarious is the tendency of people to try to make it like other systems in the environment, especially if that new enterprise is very different from surrounding systems. These people do this because they see these other systems thriving, and often lack the vision of what this new endeavour can be become. They want to head for safe, even if unambitious, harbours.

I believe that this is, in part, what happened in 90’s to Apple without Steve. The company was relatively young, had had only a handful of successes, and new skippers brought to the helm a legacy of successful models that, while status quo, would never take Apple to those heights it was capable of reaching.

That required the return of SJ, not as he was, but fired with a passion to make up for lost time and armed with the authority to do what needed to be done. Having now had about one and a third decades under his resumed command, and having experienced first hand what has contributed to Apple’s unparalleled success, his hand-picked crew, from the XO down, I believe, are all steeped in, and committed to, this new vision.

I concur with the assessment that Apple’s immediate future remains bright, very bright. I also agree that this vision will be adroitly pursued and applied by this crew, with or without SJ at the helm. Apple’s more distant challenge, in those farther seas (using your maritime analogy), will be to remain alert, proactive, adaptable and ready to lead with innovation by exploiting opportunities that only a more distant future can bring.

jcn_13

The only problem I see with the potential departure of Steve Jobs from Apple is the possibility of a boardroom fight to see who will succeed him. If the transition does not go well and the decision making grinds to a halt then the future could be bleak.

Frankly this does worry me, because I can well imagine that many of the top lieutenants at Apple really have visions of being the next supreme commander.

Lanceosx

I feel Steve is irreplaceable.  Look at Apple post-Jobs and how he turned things around when he came back.  What Apple loses without Steve is his vision for the future and the ability to see “the next big thing.”  While I have no doubt the leadership at Apple can ride out Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad, iPod, iOS and their other existing products for the short term, what concerns me is the direction Apple goes in longterm.  Really, this isn’t just an Apple problem, either.  It’s a problem for all tech companies when you consider how much Apple has led the way and the rest of the industry just follows.  Again, I think Steve Jobs is irreplaceable and his loss would be a blow not just to Apple but to the entire industry.

peter c

What Apple loses without Steve is his vision for the future and the ability to see ?the next big thing.?? While I have no doubt the leadership at Apple can ride out Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad, iPod, iOS and their other existing products for the short term, what concerns me is the direction Apple goes in longterm.?

There was a particular point in the auto-industry when modern cars became generic platforms. This point was reached when their use became a necessity for ordinary people, and the UI stabilised to a common standard using the best ideas from various makers. That point has almost arrived with Personal Computers. In the lead-up to that point, cars rapidly developed and diversified into Trucks, Cars, RV’s etc. The same UI configuration is now present in all, and the same basic mechanics underlie the OS’s.

Steve has participated in, reacted to and guided, the cutting edge of the transition from Mainframes to Portable Consumer Devices. While the power and proliferation of these devices will continue to expand, the generic platform is pretty much in view. There are further developments that will hone each component, leaving lots of room for competitive advantage, but that is a fundamentally different thing to crafting a paradigm from scratch.

It took a rare genius to get us here so far and so fast, laying down the principles that will guide future development; but from here on, in many ways it’s pretty much follow-through. While it took a Columbus to push beyond the edge and drive his protesting crew to discover the new world, it did not need a host of Columbuses to build upon that achievement.

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