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Apple Doesn't Need a Public Succession Plan

Editorial - Apple Doesn't Need a Public Succession Plan

by , 3:05 PM EDT, October 7th, 2008

Last week's scare, an unverified rumor that Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack sent Apple stock plummeting, expert investment analysts scolding, and some writers believing that Apple needs a public succession plan to avoid confusion and concerns about these kinds of incidents. That's nonsense.

First of all, Apple does have a succession plan. It's required for a company of Apple's size, and Apple would be negligent in its responsibilities not to have one. The Apple board of directors has it.

Making such a succession plan public, however, to allay the concerns of pundits and skittish investors is not really necessary. That's because, given the events that have preceded, it's clear that every time Steve Jobs gets the flu, reporters will be working their way down the list, waking up, say, Tim Cook at 3 AM. It would lead to serious invasions of privacy without any real benefit.

Second, Apple may, from time to time, change that succession plan for good reasons, depending on the availability and willingness of senior Apple executives, their career plans, etc. Apple doesn't need to be announcing those changes publicly every time it changes and responding to endless questioning of the whys and wherefores of those changes.

Finally, the public disclosure of such a plan would diminish Mr. Jobs ability to lead the company because there would be endless, squabbling questions for the named successor.

My own guess is that, given Mr. Jobs' rock star status, it's unlikely that the structure of a post-Jobs Apple would be the same as now. The new CEO would not necessarily be on the stage for Apple events and keynotes, rather, behind the scenes, running the company. Other, more flamboyant personalities, would take center stage for public events. It's hard to prove that this structure, created out of necessity, would hinder Apple in the long run, and most other companies operate that way.

The idea that Mr. Job's successor would fulfill every role he does right now is silly.

Anyway, it's all very premature. Mr. Jobs did have major surgery for a rare form of Pancreatic cancer -- and left Tim Cook in charge of the company during that recovery. He has been looking thin, likely due to dietary preferences and other factors, but all reliable reports place him in good health.

Mr. Jobs is only 53. One of our presidential candidates, hoping to be the most powerful man in the free world, just turned 73. I expect Mr. Jobs to remain at Apple for as long as it pleases him, many more years and to outlive John McCain.

As for a public succession plan, that seems to be more about obsession by the media than a prudent executive management practice.


John Martellaro is the afternoon editor of The Mac Observer and a freelance writer. He is a former U.S. Air Force officer and has worked for NASA, White Sands Missile Range, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Apple Computer. During his nearly five years at Apple, he worked as a Senior Marketing Manager for Science and Technology, Federal Account Executive, and High Performance Computing Manager. His interests, in addition to all things Apple, include alpine skiing, science fiction, astronomy and Perl. John lives in Denver, Colorado.

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