Apple’s Secret Weapons if Mr. Jobs Retires

“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.