Friday, August 29, 2008

Steve's not dead yet!

More than 30 years ago, the most famous skit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail concluded with the line “I’m not dead!”.

Thursday, Bloomberg (the news service, not the politician) apparently sent Steve Jobs’ obituary to clients, even though he’s not dead yet. As the (London) Telegraph summarized it:

The opening sentence described Jobs as the man who “helped make personal computers as easy to use as telephones, changed the way animated films are made, persuaded consumers to tune into digital music and refashioned the mobile phone.”

The 2,500-word piece also included praise for Jobs from his rival Microsoft boss Bill Gates, details of his rise from college drop-out to technology billionaire, and a list of his family “survivors”.
Bloomberg later retracted the (contingent) obituary about the Apple CEO.

Of course, the current issue of Forbes has a list of CEO candidates to replace Steve if (when) he leaves. Since Jobs will surrender control of Apple a 2nd time only when they pry it form his cold, dead fingers, such speculation is premised upon Jobs getting sick and/or dying:
Jobs' health status is still unclear. Apple p.r., insisting the boss' health is a "private matter," has done little to end speculation that the pancreatic cancer for which he had an operation four years ago may have returned.

Since anything can happen to a boss at any time, Apple's board would be smart to have an insider on deck to take over as an interim chief, says Anthony W. Scott, president of recruiting firm ChampionScott Partners. But for the longer term, he says, the company may need a star from outside. The problem: Apple has solid role players but none with the Jobsian mix of design, marketing and business smarts. Jobs' demanding approach and tight control has chased away some strong replacements.
Forbes listed two insiders and six outsiders on its roster of possible replacements, including heir apparent and alter ego Tim Cook — the short term replacement — but no plausible long-term replacements. The replacements are all bureaucrats, mostly middle managers who rose to the executive (but not CEO) suite — plus Ken Kutaragi, Sony’s PlayStation guru.

If I had to choose from the assigned list, I would probably make Tim Cook (or some other suitable business oriented grown up) chairman, and appoint as president a passionate, visionary product genius. Perhaps Jon Rubinstein will be bored with his gig at Palm and come back to the mother ship.

The alternative is to acquire (or merge with) some startup with a genius entrepreneur. (That’s how Steve Jobs and NeXT came aboard). But who? There’s no obvious choice from the fastest growing 25 tech startups. Off the Business Week top 100, the only acquisition that comes to mind is Research in Motion.

Yes, they could hire a passed over (or ambitious) Google exec. Motorola didn’t do so well hiring a passed over Sun Microsystems exec, HP spent years in turmoil after it hired a Lucent exec who wanted to go far.

But right now, no one’s making products that are kicking Apple’s butt, so where would you find executives who would make its products even more compelling? Apparently, stockholders are also not convinced, and so the shares are down abut 2% this week.

Postscript: As I was preparing for bed last night, I realized I was focusing entirely on the company and not at all on the man — who, no matter how much larger than life he might appear, is still just a man. None of us know the time or place of our demise. Steve has three children at home (likely tweens or teens) and one grown daughter, and so whether or not he has imminent health problems, I hope that he’s spent the time recently to give them the father they need — for the day (whether 1 year away or 30) that he’s not around anymore.


Kevin Pierce said...


NEWSWIRE--Bloomberg News mistakenly (and prematurely) published on its wire, an obituary for Apple Inc. CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs.

What was said within earshot
Seemed frank and sincere,
With phrases to flatter and fawn.
But I'd rather a clear shot,
While I'm still here,
To see what they'll say when I'm gone.
Light verse, ripped from the headlines

David Gerard said...

"They don't call it the Jesus Phone for nothing."