Apple And The Prospect Of No Steve Jobs

July 26, 2008

There. I said it. I’ve been fearful of contemplating this subject since I feel Steve Jobs’ passing would be a tragic, tragic situation for Apple and its future.

Apple is an unusual company. Steve Jobs is in an abnormally prominent position in several capacities – he’s Apple’s public face via keynotes and media interviews, has a large hand in product development and design, and personally saved the company from the precipice of death. With that last feat,¬†Apple was fused with Jobsian DNA – he arguably saved the company by sculpting in his image.

Here’s a list of changes that I’d credit specifically to his Steve-ness:

All of the above display evidence of Jobsian decision-making, in particular the secrecy, aggressiveness, and focus on design.

So what can Apple do to prepare for the inevitable retirement of Jobs?

Consider Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. To find a replacement, the brilliant owner Willy Wonka hid golden tickets inside wrappers of chocolate bars to find a worthy successor.

At Pixar, John Lasseter is the founder and most prominent director, but a small handful of star directors are receiving their own vehicles (Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter).

Apple doesn’t need to go to the extreme of handing out golden tickets with every new iPhone and vetting children in Cupertino, but a little transparency wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps disclosing a contingency plan of possible successors and introducing them through keynotes and media interviews.

Anyhow, what’s your take? Do I give Steve Jobs too much credit? Would Apple be okay without Steve Jobs?

Additional Reading: Chuqui 3.0, Seeking Alpha, Mathew Ingram, New York Times


  1. Mike says:

    I'm fairly sure Jobs has stated that Apple would be fine with the current set of leaders there now – I don't remember any names offhand, but he has brought out other people in some of the keynotes lately.

    You know, I'm fine with things if he is. I'm sure he's got things worked out behind the scenes – c'mon, he's Steve Jobs. Would the company be fine without him? Well, it would certainly be different, but I think it's got a fighting chance.

    Woz is a good guy, I wonder if he'd come back (at least as a figurehead to calm people down) if something happened to Jobs.

  2. DaveD says:

    I think you gave SJ the proper amount of credit, but you need to keep in mind two other things:

    (1) In regards to design, Steve was helped in large portions by Avie Tevanian (software) and Jonathan Ive (hardware design). Sure, these two are no longer with Apple – could this be why we haven't seen much form factor change in the computer lines lately? – but that only means that maybe you should already be concerned!

    (2) Like you said, Steve brought a vision and focus back to Apple. He simplified their product lines. But that was 10 years ago. At this point in time Apple doesn't specifically need a Steve Jobs to maintain that kind of focus. It's not that anybody can do it, but I'm sure a handful of “insiders” can.


  3. webomatica says:

    Now that you mention it, Jobs probably does have a solid succession /
    contingency plan but it's currently kept “secret” as he has so many
    other of his plans. However, this situation is once instance where the
    secrecy isn't serving the company well.

    I for one would be overjoyed to see Woz return to the fold, if only as
    a figurehead to give keynotes.

  4. webomatica says:

    Good point about Avie no longer being there – I hope the recent OS X
    delay and slight increase in bugs aren't an indication of quality
    slipping. I'm pretty sure Ive is still at Apple. But in general, I
    could very well be overthinking this – the folks at Apple have surely
    thought this through.

  5. jcieplinski says:

    Great analysis, as usual. I was very happy to see you listed the retail initiative, as I believe that is the ultimate decision of Jobs. Flying in the face of tremendous criticism, the Retail stores made the iPod's success possible. And they make Apple's continued success with future products almost guaranteed.

    I'd say another great accomplishment of Steve's that gets overlooked all the time is Steve's defiance of Microsoft. When everyone was saying that Apple should be mimickng MS, (clones, cheap prices) Steve went his own way, despite very harsh criticism. I think the downfall of MS will ultimately be credited to Apple and Google, the first two major companies to defy MS and win.

    I think Apple's future after the Steve era will be fine. Tim Cook will take over, and he will do a fine job. Steve already has him taking on more and more responsibility. And remember, Apple is in great shape now. The future road map is clear. They won't need another Jobs, because the company won't be on the edge of collapse. The stock will take a huge hit at first, but it will bounce back.

  6. webomatica says:

    Yeah – as I was writing the list I kept thinking of more apple decisions
    that had the Jobs mark. Microsoft is a good one – although along with the
    defiance and going their own way, there was also that key “alliance” where
    Jobs got MSFT to invest money in Apple – very sly business move to have MSFT
    realize they had an interest in seeing Apple survive. I'm sure it was spun
    as MSFT making money on Apple software (Office) at the time.

    I think I've calmed down from when I wrote this post as to the prospect of
    no Steve Jobs. I suppose if one has faith in the leadership ability at Apple
    so far, certainly they've thought about this contingecy and are prepared. I
    guess I'll now read up on Tim Cook and what he can offer.