Will Apple crumble without Steve Jobs?


When Steve Jobs stepped aside last month, the reaction was huge within the industry and among consumers. But Jobs was a lot more than a CEO. Jasper Jackson asks analysts what the consequences could be for Apple

Late last month, Apple founder Steve Jobs stood down from his role at the top of the world’s most valuable technology company, saying he could no longer meet the demands of his role as CEO.

He has now become chairman of Apple’s board, remaining involved with the company. Yet few expect the micro-manager to take a hands-on role, because if he was capable of doing so, he would have retained the top spot.

He has been replaced by former Apple COO Tim Cook, who has built up a formidable reputation since he was recruited by Jobs 13 years ago.

Yet Jobs has been one of the defining features of Apple’s success. His trademark black turtlenecks and jeans are almost as closely associated with the Apple brand as sleek lines and glowing apple-shaped logos.

Analysts Mobile News has spoken to describe him as the “icon of Apple’s creative vision”, the firm’s “conductor”and “saviour”. They all believe that finding a replacement will be a huge challenge, if not impossible, because in many ways Jobs is Apple.

Secret to success
Much of Jobs’ success is attributed to his ability to identify what will be a hit with consumers. In particular, it is his ability to know when the market is ready for a new product.

His ability to judge a market well was especially clear with the release of the iPhone in 2007.

According to Frost & Sullivan research analyst Craig Cartier, he has been the icon of Apple’s creative vision.

“If you think of the iPhone, you think of Steve Jobs,” says Cartier.

“The iPhone is really something that sparked the smartphone boom, that brought smartphones and applications and that entire ecosystem into mass-market awareness.”

According to Enderle Group chief analyst and president Rob Enderle, the ability to judge consumers has its roots in Jobs’ youth, before he made his mark on the computer industry.

Enderle claims Jobs learned his leadership skills during a trip to India on a soul-searching exercise in the 1970s, before he founded Apple. Enderle says Jobs learned to “manipulate” people and get them to do what he wanted them to do.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the firm had a total market capitalisation value of £1.5 billion and had just recorded a loss of about £600 million. It is now worth £223 billion, and in its last quarter made a record £4.5 billion profit on revenues of £17.5 billion.

According to Screen Digest senior analyst Julien Theys, it is Jobs’ ability to know when to say “no” to a product, rather than his reputation for innovation that has been his most important asset.

Theys says: “He had the flair to sense when something was right for users, and when something was not and had to be shelved for later.”

While Apple has had some flops under Jobs’ leadership, including Apple TV and Cloud service MobileMe, the firm has managed to produce a uniquely successful string of products, from the iMac to the iPad, often by improving on ideas already in circulation.

“Jobs was not a believer in iPads until he was on a panel with Bill Gates, and Bill talked about the tablet,” says Enderle. “He listened to Bill’s vision, and hearing Bill talk about the potential for the tablet he recognised it and executed.

“Steve can look at an idea, see its potential and drive it through its execution, and he does that repeatedly. At Apple he has created a formula that can turn out hit after hit, and no other company does that.”

In with the new
Few think that anyone at Apple, or any other company, has quite the same mix of skills as Jobs.

But despite Jobs’ widely recognised importance to Apple, analysts almost uniformly say that Apple’s transition to running under Cook will be smooth.

Cook is seen as a steady hand, after running day-to-day operations at Apple for years and taking the reins when health issues have previously forced Jobs to take a back-seat.

He is also credited with helping Jobs rapidly turn a £600 million loss at Apple in 1997, into a profit the next year, and building the firm’s revenues and margins to the levels seen today.

All the analysts we spoke to praised Cook for his management skills, in particular his ability to handle Apple’s
complex supply and distribution chain.

Yet he is considered to be an operations expert, who lacks the flair that has enabled Jobs to drive Apple.

Nevertheless, Cook will have the support of Jobs’ hand-picked team of Apple veterans, and at least initially, they will be following a roadmap already in place.

Full article in Mobile News issue 497 (September 12, 2011).

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