Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Steve Jobs Essential?

This is in the wake of reading today's announcement that Jobs is once again taking a medical leave of absence due to health issues. First of all, I wish him well. Steve is a man with billions of dollars but he's also a man with a family and the CEO of a company that thousands of people work for. For the sake of all of them (but especially the family) I hope he gets better.

How important is Steve to Apple? He's the public face and voice of Apple, and he's the veto on everything. But he's not the day-to-day manager nowadays - Tim Cook is that and by all accounts he's terrific at it. Ron Johnson is the man behind the Apple Store experience. Jonny Ive is the design guru behind the look and feel of every hardware product Apple produces (in collaboration with Jobs). Bob Mansfield makes Macs and other hardware work well. Bertie Serlet is the person behind the OS, and he's one of the NeXT vets. So is Scott Forstall, the man behind iOS.

Where Steve comes in is as the tone-setter. He makes the call to ax a product. He makes the "ship or not" decision. His DNA is infused within Apple's executive team. Can Apple continue executing without Steve Jobs? Absolutely. Most of the products they make a ton of money from don't spring from the mind of Jobs. They come from the teams under him. The place where I have concerns is in the vision side - there isn't (as far as I can see) a person there right now who can say "this is the future, this is where we are going, and it will proceed, period". If that person exists at Apple in the exec suite, now is the time for them to start becoming a mini-Steve in preparation for the day they need to take over. Hopefully it won't be for a while.

Meantime, I have a firm trust in the product pipeline. Product decisions are already made that will come in to play for the remainder of 2011 and into 2012. The iPhone 5 is done. So is the iPad 2. The iPad 3 and iPhone 6 are well underway as of now. MacOS X 10.7 is due this year. Mac hardware for the rest of the year is designed and ready, so are this year's iPods. I'm not worried about 2011, and I'm not too worried about 2012. They've made some odd decisions that affect my business as a consultant (mainly because I work extensively with Apple Retail in my business) that are odd, but that isn't stuff that is decided in the C-Suite.

My hope is to see Steve resume as much of a role as he can in the near future. If he can't do that, I'd like to see Tim Cook named CEO, Jobs remain Chairman, and some more talent come on board if needed. More than anyone not named Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs has his company and his identity intertwined. Hopefully Apple is well-prepared for that to not be so, and hopefully now is not the time to find out.
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