First, let’s get a couple key points out of the way:
1. I own shares in Apple.
2. I think Steve Jobs is an excellent, inspiring and inspired CEO. His job is not and should not be in jeopardy.
3. I would be simply delighted if Steve could live and lead Apple forever.
4. He won’t.
Look, even without Steve’s health issues — the pancreatic cancer, the weight loss, and the liver transplant, all of which are surely correlated — statement #4 remains true. But Steve’s health issues do ultimately press the issue a bit more.
When the inevitable happens, and Steve Jobs leaves Apple either by choice or necessity, I fully expect those shares I referenced in key point #1 up there to take a massive dive. Investors will inevitably be spooked when one of the most lauded CEOs of all time is no longer at Apple’s helm. That’s reasonable.
What surprises me, however, is the minimal efforts Apple appears to be taking to groom, publicly, Mr. Jobs’s replacement.
When Steve took his multi-month, health-related leave of absence, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook was left in charge. That’s great. By all accounts, Cook is exquisitely talented. But beyond a few public statements of praise for how Mr. Cook handled things during Jobs’s time away, Apple in general and Steve Jobs in particular haven’t done much to present him — or anyone — as the next genius ready to guide Apple after Steve.
I imagine there are competing perspectives in play here. On Apple Inc’s side — the side of its Board of Directors, its shareholders, etc. — knowing that the company can succeed without Steve Jobs, and even more ideally knowing precisely whom is being groomed for that role — would provide welcome peace of mind and reassurance about the company’s longer-term future. From Steve’s own perspective, though, I doubt the issue holds nearly as much importance. Steve’s focus, I’d imagine, is on building great stuff, on continuing to enhance his already impressive legacy.
Cynically, it’s easy to think that Steve doesn’t worry too much about Apple’s future without him, because it’s largely inconsequential to him. What Apple does after Steve’s retirement or death really doesn’t affect Steve too much.
But Steve isn’t cynical. And neither am I.
If Steve Jobs ever thought himself immortal, I imagine his recent health scares wiped such overconfidence away. What, then, would prevent him from more enthusiastically and publicly building up his eventual successor?
Is Tim Cook, in Steve’s view, not the guy? Is there no one Steve thinks could take the helm?
I don’t envy the task before the person who one day needs to step into Jobs’s sneakers. While I certainly believe that Apple will continue to be successful after Steve leaves, I’m also realistic: The company may stumble a bit more often, or a bit more visibly. iOS devices might get a few more buttons. With any luck, though, we won’t see any more Performas.
Most companies don’t ceremonially crown a new CEO while the current one still comes into work each day. But quick: Name five other big companies whose CEOs so directly embody public’s view of the companies’ visions, esthetics, and philosophies. Google is Google with or without Eric Schmidt.
Apple’s in a unique spot. So I’m stumped as to why it hasn’t tackled this obvious question more aggressively.