Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs is famous for fanatically guarding information about upcoming products — or even what new products are in the pipeline — until the official announcement date. This was a decision he reached the hard way, in the very early days soon after I joined the company. As many people still vividly remember, he announced a launch date for the first Macintosh, then kept demanding changes in the design. The Mac was finally released six months after the original announced date.
Rare among corporate leaders, Steve has never made decisions based on a concern for market reaction. He simply is not influenced by whether investors and market analysts will think he’s doing the right thing. But the financial community has come to have confidence in him: his track record for making the right decisions is hard to argue with.
Now Steve is following the same frustrating modus operandi about the question of who will take over the helm of Apple should be be forced to step down for health reasons. Everyone who has ever worked closely with Steve knows that, for him, relinquishing control over any aspect of the company or its products is — well, difficult, to put it politely.
So who will run the Steve-less Apple? We can find clues in the recent past.
In late 2003, when early adopters and techno-addicts were buzzing about what nifty, gotta-have product Apple would introduce next, what we were introduced to instead was the distressing news that Steve had pancreatic cancer. In spring 2009, the medical news of Cupertino was about a liver transplant.
For eight-plus years, he has been unable to stick with his unique day-by-day, hands-on, no-decision-without-my-approval way of creating products and running the company — a style that with almost any other corporate leader has been a virtually guaranteed formula for failure. So far, it’s clear that Steve Jobs has created a team and structure that are capable of functioning splendidly even without him at the helm.
This was most recently in evidence with the launch of the original iPad. Steve was on leave most of the time during the final stages of iPad development and launch. Even so, the iPad proved to be another ground-breaking product with sales topping billions of dollars in the first couple of months, bringing new life to a segment of the computer market that had until then been essentially moribund. Buyers, especially the young, have gone gaga over the iPad. Steve was even less able to take part in development of the second-generation iPad he has just announced, yet a first look suggests that his team has successfully applied all the lessons they learned from working under him.
Over the years, Steve has generated a nearly uncanny ability to recognize talent and to recruit almost everyone he has ever set his eye on. The result is a team that inspires confidence for the future. Although Tim Cook, who has been so admirably leading the company in Steve’s absences, has limited background on the product side, the results so far speak for themselves. Anyone predicting doom and gloom for an Apple without Steve would do well to take a better look at the team Steve has put in place.