CEO Steve Jobs Exits – Filling Steve’s Shoes

I am a huge fan of Steve Jobs. He has taken some of the best dreams the computer industry has had and made them real – in fact enhanced them further. He’s made amazing technology available to the Masses. He has delivered on his goal to change the world. And then some.

But now Steve has kicked himself upstairs to the Chairman position where I think he will stay until death do us part. My impressions are that his health is failing and he must cut back severely to stay alive at this point. Barring a miracle, the end is near. So, what happens to Apple with Steve’s role further diminished?

First of all, I don’t see a successor to Steve Jobs anywhere at Apple or not at Apple. At Apple, Steve has been gutsy, bold and tireless. He has been idealistic but practical and committed enough to actually fulfill on those ideals. That’s a great human to emulate. He has also been a flag bearer for a vision of technology + art and humanities.

The problem for us, not so much for Apple, is that some of the things we’ve loved about Apple products may be diluted as Steve’s influence subsides. Values like excellence, aesthetics, design, minimalism and innovation may suffer without their strongest exponent – how could they not? Although a great man in his own right, Jony Ive isn’t going to be able to champion these values as well as Steve has done. If there is one more thing for Steve to do, it is to find that someone that can fill the gaps he will leave at Apple. All the other pieces are there right now. Apple is unstoppable – short term.

The Steve-sized hole I see at the future Apple is in these intangibles — we need an insanely great advocate who can go against the temptations to play it safe. For example, minimalism a la Dieter Rams’ ten principles, is bold. It is placing your bets and going for it. You don’t get little failures that way, you get big ones when things don’t go as planned.

When push comes to shove, Steve would stand in the fire and find that bold place. He has kept calling for redoes of various products well past the point anyone I’ve heard of would just say, we’re done. That’s a print!

But Steve was not cavalier or reckless. Look at that cash stronghold Apple’s got. Far from it. Steve has just been unwavering in his vision and commitment – and it paid off. Two of Steve’s greatest talents have been to (1) find and hire awesome people to work at Apple and (2) to inspire and cajole those talented people to work in tandem to accomplish great things. I would think a big part of the draw at Apple is to have this opportunity to change the world and work on cutting edge products. These people are still there and they are there not just for Steve.

We have the incredible people. We have a Steve-shaped hole that is only partially grown. I want Tim Cook at the helm right now. Stay there, Tim. Short term, I would like to see a CEO-wannabe arty, design kind of person developed within Apple’s midst or hired from outside (there are probably 10 of these or more at Apple right now) and brought onto the executive team asap. Maybe this person just helps make up for the hole. He or she doesn’t have to be CEO necessarily. But this person needs to make it easy for Jony to keep doing his thing at the level he’s been doing it.

My Stevie J man or woman would need to be a leader. Would probably need a pretty great track record. How do you fill this hole? As they say, though, when one door closes another door opens. Our whole world has learned from what Steve and Apple have wrought. For all I know, generations will be affected by these values. There are an awful lot of Apple fans. Look at China’s adoption of the iPad of late.

Don’t in any way consider this to be a negative opinion on Apple’s short term prospects. How can they lose? I’m hoping MG Siegler’s idea about Steve’s One More Thing comes true this fall. And, no one has written better and more insightfully about all this than Jean-Louise Gassée in his recent Monday Note: Who’s Going to Protect Us from Cheap and Mediocre Now?

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2 thoughts on “CEO Steve Jobs Exits – Filling Steve’s Shoes”

  1. The final test for Steve Jobs, the final rung of business enlightenment, the apex product worthy of him, is designing a team that retains the mix of genius that he and Tim Cook and Jonathon Ive have provided.

    This is the hardest task in succession planning. Steve can’t groom a Steve II while he is there, but without this person, either Jony or Tim could also depart.
    Who could now be hired to begin filling Steve’s role along with the other top players? What person is out there, overlooked by others, waiting to be pulled out of the magician’s hat? Not to run the show of course, but someone that Tim could rely on as much as Steve relied on Tim.

    Replacing the indispensable person takes foresight and humility.

    (This was also my response to the Jean-Louis Gassée article you cited.)

  2. Thanks, Mike. Well said. I’ll be watching closely as things unfold. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the amazing products already created and about to be released this Fall and next year. I’m guessing iPhone 5 will rock and am wondering what will come of the iPod touch near term. Also waiting to see whether there will be a new Apple TV this year. I’ve got generation 1 and am interested in the iPad and Mac streaming possibilities.

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