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  • Apple Without Steve Jobs

    July 24th, 2008

    The way Wall Street reacted to recent rumors about Steve Jobs and whether or not he’s seriously ill certainly mirrors the common perception that the company he co-founded can’t possibly succeed without him.

    I can surely understand the reason for this common conception, since we all know how bad things were at Apple in the 1990s before he returned to the company. To almost everyone, he’s credited with righting a sinking ship and for everything Apple has done right since then.

    I wouldn’t for a moment suggest anything else. But Steve Jobs is not an industrial designer, nor is he an engineer. You can say he’s a master salesman, and you’d probably be right. You can also say that he has a confrontational management style, while no doubt jarring to one’s sensibilities if you don’t like to be constantly challenged, which happens to succeed within Apple’s specific corporate environment.

    However, he couldn’t do a single thing without a talented staff of thousands of people who are prepared to take his vision to its ultimate conclusion, wherever it may lead. In interviews, Jobs has certainly done what he can to foster this impression, saying that people who can’t accept his way of doing things are welcome to leave.

    Many of his most loyal staffers have been with him for years, some were even part of the NeXT team that came along for the ride when that company was acquired by Apple. A few, such as operating system genius Avie Tevanian, have gone on to other pursuits, or are simply content counting the riches they earned working for Jobs.

    With his executive team calling the shots, in fact, Jobs was reportedly on vacation when Apple’s quarterly financials were announced this week. At the same time, published reports have it that Jobs is healthy, although he underwent surgery earlier this year to deal with a weight loss problem stemming from his original treatment for pancreatic cancer several years ago. During his WWDC keynote, he was, so Apple PR says, suffering from a “bug” and had, in fact, apparently considered skipping the event as a result.

    But that might have invited even more unsavory speculation about his fitness to continue as Apple’s CEO, and no doubt that was one key reason why the show had to go despite the lingering effects of his illness.

    More to the point, how many hours does Jobs actually devote to Apple these days anyway? Was their financial situation so unimportant to him that he felt he had the freedom to be somewhere else during the analyst conference? It’s not that he generally participates anyway, though he has in the past.

    But certainly his executive team is well-trained, highly skilled, and knows how to toe the company line. They did a fine job delivering tantalizing hints of a forthcoming product transition of major importance, but without a single salient detail in sight. Predictably, the speculation has begun in earnest, and won’t stop until the official product announcement comes, as expected, in the next few weeks.

    Returning to Jobs, does he still put in an eight-hour day these days, with occasional nights and weekends close to a product’s introduction, or does he just make a few token appearances to approve final design conceps, fire a few lackeys to continue to foster his fearsome leadership image, and get on with his life?

    As a matter of fact, does he even make regular journeys to Disney headquarters, as that company’s largest stockholder, to check in on the progress of their movie projects, particularly those from the Pixar division? What about ABC television, the theme parks and other company holdings? Or does he simply place a few strategic phone calls, on his iPhone of course, and stay away until a board meeting requires his presence?

    Of course, such a concept really goes against the widespread impression, fostered by Apple’s spin team naturally, that Jobs remains the hands-on micromanaging executive who has his nose in every nook and cranny of the business and knows what everyone is doing, and whether they’re doing it in accordance with his individualistic vision.

    That may, of course, be true. Even if Jobs isn’t present at the Apple campus, he can easily communicate with his iPhone — or whatever successor product Apple has under development right now. I’m sure he also has people who serve as his eyes and ears, so if things aren’t quite moving in the proper direction, he can come over and take the appropriate whip-cracking action to set things right.

    In other words, Jobs is definitely not a figurehead the company trots out strictly for meetings with the press and public.

    On the other hand, Apple isn’t saying just how often Jobs comes to work these days, or whether he is, in fact, slowly phasing himself out of active participation in the day-to-day events. Maybe he has simply come to feel that his executive team is quite skilled at handling the mundane affairs, and even some of the important issues, without requiring his presence.

    If Apple’s board is busy grooming possible successors to Jobs, such a situation would allow them to bloom outside of his shadow, so they can prove their mettle as far as leadership skills are concerned.

    Or maybe none of this chatter has any basis in fact. Perhaps his extended holiday during the week when Apple announced quarterly record profits was just the long-delayed vacation he and his family wanted. Even now, he may be preparing to return and devote a typical 40, 60, or 80 hours a week to keep Apple moving in the proper direction, or at least the direction he deems proper.

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    29 Responses to “Apple Without Steve Jobs”

    1. Not FSJ says:


      Will you ask a local Cupertino resident to watch for the non-tag bearing Mercedes schedule in the Handicapped Parking spot at Apple Cupertino Campus? Why are so few viewings of Jobs posted between WWDC and Macworld?

    2. Gene,

      Will you ask a local Cupertino resident to watch for the non-tag bearing Mercedes schedule in the Handicapped Parking spot at Apple Cupertino Campus? Why are so few viewings of Jobs posted between WWDC and Macworld?

      No, will you? 🙂


    3. Viswakarma says:

      Could the recent reports of Steve Jobs health be to take advantage of the Wall Street Rabbits, so that the stock manipulators can profit from the ups and down of Apple Stock?

    4. Could the recent reports of Steve Jobs health be to take advantage of the Wall Street Rabbits, so that the stock manipulators can profit from the ups and down of Apple Stock?

      I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the news about Apple is being manipulated in this fashion. Rather a macabre and greedy approach, but that’s how it happens sometimes.


    5. loog says:

      Jobs’ talent at Apple is about being a king who can rule that bunch of egomaniacs that wouldn’t be able to rule themselves even if they keep thinking they could. They need someone they can accept as their alpha dog despite their big egos, so that they focus on their tasks at the company instead of focussing on their pecking order and great personalities.

      Jobs as the founder of the whole thing and as some really rich and therefor somehow selfish looking guy is perfect, even if that king has become a bit soft and lovingly caring during the last years.

      If Jobs leaves, it will result in something between a big biting, apathetic boredom and isolated groups working on their little thing, like it was before his return.

      So he has to stay as long as possible. It will be hard to find some similar iconic figure.

      (Maybe Gates can take over, now that he’s free. At least he could provide the right image even if he has prooven himself wrong too often by providing “visions” before doing implementations. Something Jobs wisely has kept for himself.)

    6. Richard Taylor says:

      Steve Jobs is a Walt Disney-level visionary. Walt couldn’t draw very well. All of the characters we think of as Disney’s were actually realized by other artists. Most of the stories that formed the bases for his movies were written by novelists and adapted by Disney’s studio. What Disney brought to the table, and this is true of Jobs, too, was vision. He may not have been able to create what he wanted personally, but he knew what it was when he saw it, and very often saw it before it was created by others. I call this kind of creativity ‘corporate art’ and the people who are responsible for it ‘corporate artists’.

      What happened to Walt Disney Productions when cancer took Disney in 1966? The studio began to drift. Execs and artists asked themselves the question, “What would Walt do?” and not having Walt’s genius, couldn’t answer the question. The Disney studio was later acquired by another corporate entity that took its name. Disney today, while capable of making wonderful corporate art, is not the same company.

      When Jobs leaves, his successors will ask, “What would Steve do?” There’s a pretty good chance they won’t be able to answer that question.

    7. MichaelT says:

      Gene, I really wish you would have called this article, “Jobs Security.” 😀

    8. Gene, I really wish you would have called this article, “Jobs Security.” 😀

      Waiting for boom to lower. 😀


    9. Realtosh says:

      Steve is going anywhere anytime soon.

      His diet will keep him extremely thin, especially after the surgical procedure that Steve underwent several years ago. Steve’s diet however will keep him extremely health for years to come.

    10. Thin is in. Long live Steve Jobs.

    11. Realtosh says:

      Steve is NOT going anywhere anytime soon.

      His diet will keep him extremely thin, especially considering the extensive surgical procedure that Steve underwent several years ago. Steve’s diet however will keep him extremely healthy for years to come.

    12. Realtosh says:

      Steve’s has 2 very basic, but monumentally important tasks:

      1) Demand extreme excellence from everyone at Apple.

      2) see #1

      Seriously, Steve does none of the heavy lifting. That’s why corporations hire thousand of workers. There is no real need for him to do any of the paper work.

      His job is to review the prototypes of the products that Apple is making. He provides constant feedback, until the devices approach perfection. But, it is critically important that he make sure the products they make are the absolute best. He meets with and hires the upper level and other critically important individuals, like the leaders of any task forces of any upcoming projects. He probably spends most of his time giving feedback to the various task forces that do most of the heavy lifting at the company.

      The company could continue on auto-pilot for several years after Steve left for whatever reason and continue to hit record-breaking quarterly results for years. The current hand that Apple is plauying right now is so strong.

    13. Realtosh says:

      I’m no Steve Jobs, but even I could run Apple for at least 10-15 years after Steve, and continue the pattern of record quarterly results throughout. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The company is doing so well and will continue to do so well. That Apple will continue to perform spectacularly well, will strengthen my role as CEO. Of course I will be responsible for none of it. That will not matter. That I will be at the head of the company during such phenomenal growth will create perceptions of my God-like Steve Jobsian powers. Those will become self-fulfilling. Of course, I would be unable to do any of it without the amazing team that is Apple today. I’d have it easy because Steve already did the heavy lifting of putting the great team together.

    14. Realtosh says:

      Tim Cook would be an obvious choice to replace Steve, if necessary. But that would be a mistake. Tim is too busy already running Apple to be its’ CEO. The same should be said for Jonathan Ive, whom once even I thought would be a natural replacement for Jobs. Jon is too busy creating Apple’s great products too worry about running the place. Steve is the Yin to Jon’s Yang. They have karma and work great together. But you can’t take Jon out of his role. Peter Oppenheimer as CFO would be another short list choice. The numbers are very important at Apple; witness the stellar results for the last several years. But, I wouldn’t put a numbers person running the place. The CEO needs to have a vision above the numbers. It’s the CFO’s duty to track the numbers and keep the numbers on track, but he need not be the CEO. That’s a different role with different skills. In fact, it is better to have a strong CFO doing the numbers apart from the CEO, so as not to bog down the CEO. The CEO needs to review the numbers constantly, but they shouldn’t be his preoccupation. I’m sure Steve reviews every report Peter prepares – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Plus I’m sure Peter prepares a special executive summary just for Steve and the top management — a CliffNotes version if you will.

    15. Realtosh says:

      Ron Johnson is too busy running the Apple stores and getting more $’s/sq ft than any other retailer in existence. I wouldn’t move him from that position. That leaves Phil Schiller, who has head of Worldwide Product Marketing has much on his plate. His role probably overlaps with Steve the most. Whereas Phil has to sweat the details, Steve just has to make the decisions and ask Phil if it’s being done. Phil is responsible for the image that we all have of Apple and it’s products. I’m guessing that Steve probably interacts with Jon and Phil the most. These two are responsible for creating the products, and getting the message out about those products respectively.

    16. Realtosh says:

      These two roles are the ones that Steve Jobs probably most identifies with. Of all these inside prospects I would tip my hat to Phil. Schiller taking over the CEO role would rock the boat the least. I think Phil would be the best choice of the senior management. Although I fear that Phil would get bogged down with the details too much to be CEO. It has been Phil’s job to sweat the details for years, that it would not be easy to switch roles. It is critically important for the CEO to not be bogged down with the details. For as much press as Steve gets for micromanaging Apple, he’s probably quite hands off, except where it relates to the critically important design and marketing. He is the Chief Reviewing Officer. His job is too make sure every one else does their job, but to the highest standards on Earth.

    17. Realtosh says:

      So I would probably bring in an outsider. My first choice would be Eric Schmidt. That’s probably why they keep him around even though there are obvious conflicts between Apple and Google coming up in the cell phone business. As the current CEO of Google, having Schmidt on Apple’s board must present some challenges. Google would want every phone maker using their software, so as to expand their advertising rhelm. Apple’s interest is that cell makers keep using whatever crap software that they are using currently, making it that much easier for Apple to take their cookies with Apple’s far superior products. All that Schmidt learns about making a great phone OS software platform will help Google at Apple’s expense. In order for Apple’s board to put up with that level of potential conflict needs an extremely good reason. Eric is a great mind and gets along great with Steve. It makes sense for Jobs and Apple to want the counsel of Schmidt on their board. He’s truly unique both in his historical experience and relevant knowledge.

    18. Realtosh says:

      The CEO job is just to keep everyone on task. They brought Schmidt onto the board, so that he could get to know Apple. If it were necessary to make him CEO, he would know enough about Apple. This is so as not to break the company, as some previous CEOs are famous for doing.

      Schmidt would be the man for the job. He’s run many companies in the Valley, and has quite a high standing in corporate circles especially in the world of technology. Schmidt could leave Google and take the job at Apple. He could merge the two companies, and run the whole beast himself. There would be many options.

    19. Realtosh says:

      If Schmidt is not available or chooses not to give up Google to run Apple, I’d be more than happy to run Apple for 10-15 years after Steve decides that he longer wants to or is unable to continue in the role. I can’t imagine that Steve would ever voluntarily give up the role that he’s created for himself in his garage decades ago. But if it ever comes to that, he can rest assured that I am available to bail him out.

      I’d don’t bring as much to the table as any of the great people that I’ve mentioned in this post. Any of them would make a better CEO for Apple than I could ever hope to be. I’ve never run a company larger than $50m.

      But if I can do a great, so can any of these great managers already at Apple be a great CEO.

    20. Realtosh says:

      Because of Steve and specifically the great team that he’s already assembled for me, I could keep Apple on track for at least the next 10-15 years. I wouldn’t want to lose even one top management person; so I’d double their pay, at least the bonus portion. I would want them to keep producing. I wouldn’t tie any of the metrics to the stock price. I wouldn’t want any of the hedge fund managers or stock manipulators on Wall Street to have a direct impact on my staff’s pay. I would tie their pay to the results: units shipped, revenue, and profit.

      Apple works like such a great well-oiled machine, that I’m sure that most top managers get company performance based pay. Apple hits its’ numbers quarter after quarter because every top management official gets paid to make sure that the results come in year after year.

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