Since 1997, Steve Jobs has led the MacWorld Keynote event addressing the Apple flock, with pride and power. From a majestic, seemingly mystical, pulpit set atop a wide, dramatically lit stage, he has regaled stockholders, software developers, and enthusiastic consumers, numbering in the millions, with Apple’s plans for the coming year. His intimidating sense of control has afforded him the kind of command over this ever-growing audience that seldom belongs to individuals who don’t draw their power from Government or God. It is easy to understand why every product launch, press release, news leak, or any one of a countless list of maneuvers, can cause measurable, even drastic, shifts in the stock market. With great power comes great liability. Steve Jobs is indeed the core of Apple Inc. and with so much vested in this great company, the big question is very clear: What happens to the apple when it loses its core?
The 2009 Mac World Keynote Event marked the day when the devoted members of the Church of Apple got to see that Steve Jobs bleeds like everyone else. His broken posture and slow, weakened movements were daunting. The dead silence of the audience as all the attendees hung on every word that Jobs’ offered was indeed reminiscent of his earlier grandeur. Yet, this time, this silence was as much a result of the shock, felt equally by all, as it was the usual mark of respect. As always, when Steve makes a move, the Universe responds. Uncountable reactions flooded the net. Articles depicted Jobs’ approaching demise. Smarmy opportunists launched viral games inviting users to bet when he would die, what disease he had, when the company would fall as well as innumerable others. Nothing, however, was as powerful as the moment that Steve Jobs relieved himself from the keynote address deferring to Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, to address the Apple Nation as the voice of god whilst he watched from the side on a stool.
When the dismal rumors of Steve Jobs’ health found confirmation at the Mac World Key Note Event, stock prices immediately fell. Apple Inc. faced a moment of ugly and unavoidable truth. Jobs is Apple and this might be the one job in this country that cannot be outsourced. Moreover, even if another man, or a group of men, could be wrangled, trained, incentivized and impassioned to relieve Steve Jobs from his post successfully, will the countrymen be willing to give themselves over to a new king?
Jobs is responsible for the generation of the intuitive operating system that used iconography instead of code to represent actions on the personal computer platform. Jobs is responsible for the concept of beautifying the casing of the systems so that they could stand almost like art in one’s home. Jobs made possible the level of animation capacity necessary for the digital masterpieces that keep coming out of Pixar. He saved the music business by conceiving a platform that could monetize a database of media files and he was able to position this marketplace on hundreds of millions of computers around the globe as well as, more recently, in the pocket of almost hundred million men and women in the United States. He has erected temples to Apple’s greatness in major cities around the world whose awesome presence evokes imagery of high priests and virgins surrounded by platinum chalices spilling over with grapes on the vine. Everything that Apple means to the world is a direct extension of Steve Jobs’ very soul.
In Apple’s current form, is it just lost without Jobs at the helm? Absolutely! Can a vehicle be constructed through which, over time, a seamless transfer of power could be executed? Can we empower the next super man or woman to protect and grow this company until it kills him or her too? Well, it works for the papacy and the Pope might be the only one out there with as many devotees.
There are those who believe that a Jobs-less Apple is not as threatening an idea as I believe it to be. They believe that while Steve Jobs is unarguably a significant part of the Apple story, the success of the company is attributable to the work of many – not just one man. Apple has existed with & without Jobs over the years and while it is certain that Jobs has brought a lot of value, the thought that Apple, a system of so many organs, arteries, and working processes, would face a terminal diagnosis with his excision, is presumptuous and impossible. IBM moved forward with the loss of Tom Watson. Microsoft moved forward, and continues to do so as the market leader, without Bill Gates as CEO.
The fact is that corporations have been dealing with leadership transitions forever. Apple Inc. is not the first company faced with the loss of a great leader and it certainly will not be the last. Bill Gates, arguably the winner of the Jobs/Gates battle, based purely on revenues, is now celebrated for his graceful exit from his role as Microsoft’s CEO. Steve Ballmer has been the CEO of record for Microsoft for over ten years and Microsoft has maintained its position as market leader so far. If a company so much larger than Apple can face the same problem and manage it relatively seamlessly, then Apple must be able to do to the same. Right?
Gates handpicked Ballmer and spent years readying him for the role before the transition became official in January of 2000. To put this in apple context, around the same time that Gates decided to begin preparing his heir, Steve Jobs was just claiming, or perhaps reclaiming, the Apple throne. Gates still maintained control of select corporate divisions including, most notably, the technological division. It was not until 2009 that Gates “really left” the company. 12 or 13 years were invested in to the preparation of the successor that would replace Bill Gates. The official transition culminated with the 2009 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) tradeshow where Steve Ballmer delivered Microsoft’s Annual Key Note Address. This was the first time ever that anyone besides Gates had lead this program.
Steve Jobs has done nothing to prepare a potential successor or several successors to eventually assume his position. Appointing Phil Schiller to lead the 2009 keynote address and appointing Tim Cook to act as interim CEO during Jobs’ sick-leave, were acts of desperate necessity and not representations of faith in the strength of his team. Schiller & Cook were understudies and it was clear to the world, to them, and, most importantly, to Jobs, that these temporary solutions had nothing to do with the future of Apple’s operations. It is potentially impossible for Jobs to prepare an heir, in the fashion that Gates did, at this point in his life considering the consistent health problems he has faced over the last 5 years.
Regarding public perception of a company’s stake-holders, Microsoft certainly appears to be addressing the hard problems with the right corporate sensitivities. The succession maneuver that Microsoft implemented shows a meticulously planned agenda set to allow the company to continue to grow. It shows how a leading super ego can take back seat, once the time has come, to the needs of the company. However, we must also recognize that since the change in leadership, Microsoft has been on a steady decline. Is this learning curve? That seems like a fare diagnosis but until the numbers prove the hypothesis, it’s just worthless philosophy.
So what does Apple do? The goal shouldn’t be to find a replacement for Steve Jobs because that is impossible. The story of Jobs and the story of Apple are too intertwined for the end of one not to signify the end of the other. The mission is to distance the brands from each other. While Jobs’ life may have been significantly responsible for leading the Apple brand to its current market position, it need not be responsible for taking it in to the future. For many consumers, the obsession over Apple products has no connection to Steve Jobs at all. Thus, as long as these customers are provided with the same level of innovation, design & utility that they associate with the Apple brand, allegiances will maintain and the sales will follow in kind.
Moreover, the prominent trend throughout Apple’s present winning product line is that of the open platform. Apple ads rarely use individuals or branded personalities to market their wares. The famous iPod uses the silhouettes of men & women focusing on no specific type of person and, thus, engaging us all. The iPhone broke the mold as a mobile device selling the platform that can host anyone of hundreds of thousands of applications that each user is empowered to choose or reject. All comparable products before relied on the packaging of a winning concoction of functions to win over the mass marketplace.
Apple Inc. should continue to enforce these ideas. Celebrate the users! Celebrate the consumers! Celebrate Apple not as a store that carries the brilliantly conceived products of a mastermind, but as a lifestyle that offers the nation the opportunity to brilliantly conceive the best products for themselves. The iPhone is just a toolbox waiting to be filled with utilities. The most amazing feature of the App Store is that it just manages the downloading transactions between the buyers and third party developers all over the world. This is awesome! Apple manages a system in which the same people that purchase the products also build the applications. Highlight the world as the true power source that makes Apple great! It’s incredible. It promises a phenomenal future with limitless growth & innovation potential. Best of all, it’s true. Steve Jobs has been the core of Apple Inc. and he has brought forth a remarkable revolution that shares the credit for Apple’s success with the world and not because the world consumes the products but because, now, the world makes them. Thank you Steve. Thank you apple. Most importantly, thank you world. To The Future!!
Jon Kobrin is a lifelong New Yorker currently residing on the upper east side. He is a principal & CMO of Appsolute Media LLC. He’s obsessed with branding and has an un-waivering belief that there is no excuse for poor design. He has a passion for communicating. He incessantly studies consumer behavior in the digital space. He ponders constantly, researches everything and will never stop creating. His motto is “Real success is only possible at the intersection between passion & capacity.”
Jon served as vice chairman for an IGO (Inter-Governmental Organization) in the United Nations
He has produced professional kickboxing tournaments
He has owned popular restaurants & lounges in New York City.
He knows how to throw a mean party and he has a deep appreciation for fine single malts.
He’s an aspiring author and all around creative.
Appsolute Media conceives, engineers, designs, and promotes the most progressive and addictive mobile and Web applications on the market. Appsolute Media also works with leading brands and personalities to create and deploy compelling products for all major mobile platforms. Through aggressive and innovative promotion, Appsolute Media’s applications have been featured as Hot Apps by Apple and recognized by major industry publications.
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