Monday, June 8, 2009

Steve Jobs' return

Speculation (fueled by the WSJ) is that Steve Jobs will return today, and that he’ll announce the iPhone 3.0. All Apple will say is that marketing SVP Phil Schiller is doing the keynote at this week’s WWDC, and that Jobs will be back at the end of the month.

The WSJ article includes a health update:

While Mr. Jobs has been on sick leave, some Apple directors have gotten weekly updates about his medical condition from the CEO's physician, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Jobs's recovery "is coming along" and he is on schedule to return to work later this month, said this person, who has seen Mr. Jobs in recent weeks.

"He was one real sick guy,'' added this person. "Fundamentally he was starving to death over a nine-month period. He couldn't digest protein. [But] he took corrective action.''

Mr. Jobs occasionally has come into Apple's headquarters since his leave began, said a person who has seen him there.
We don’t know if this is the last health scare he’ll have during his career, but it’s great to hear that Steve Jobs the father and husband has come back to health.

As I’ve said before, I hope Jobs does not return as CEO. The company has learned to operate without Steve, as has the investor community. There will need to be a succession to Steve someday, and this is the natural time to do so. Also, Steve has created three great businesses for Apple (Apple II, the Mac and the iPhone) and a hit machine at Pixar; what’s left to prove?

Steve could stay on as a non-executive chairman for a year or a decade. He could still be involved in new product decisions and the occasional rollout. He could even be part of an office of the CEO, with a special responsibility for new product strategies.

The problem with Steve stepping down — now or later — is that no one at Apple (or almost anywhere else) matches Steve Jobs for charisma. For 30 years, Jobs has been making people not only believe, but want to believe. The Apple products have been good the past decade, but Steve made them even more exciting.

Since a charisma transplant is not possible, and the Apple ranks do not suggest a logical replacement, I don’t know what will happen next. Before Jobs returned to Apple, the company suffered when lead by two charisma-deprived CEOs (Spindler, Amelio) who were clearly not up to the task. Neither Schiller nor COO Tim Cook will ever fill Jobs’ shoes as company spokesman.

If Jobs does reduce his role, the company must also start grooming a successor for Cook. The two men have been the heart of the company for a decade, and with Jobs stepping back, the company is even more dependent on his continuing performance and health. As Jobs’ bouts with pancreatic cancer remind us, no one knows how long he’ll be on this earth, so companies must plan for the unthinkable (sudden death) or inevitable (age and retirement).


Adam said...

"The problem with Steve stepping down — now or later — is that no one at Apple (or almost anywhere else) matches Steve Jobs for charisma."

I agree that Apple suffered when led by Spindler and Amelio, but in my opinion the symptoms were not caused by a lack of charisma. At the time, Microsoft was closing in fast (Windows 95 & NT), Apple was suffering from a lack of vision and was spending significant amounts on R&D with a poor ROI. Consequently, Apple's products were not that great, the product lines were a mess, etc. Finally, the Doctor ordered a healthy dose of NeXT.

Charisma is just the icing on the cake, I don't think that the iPhone is succeeding because of Steve Jobs's charisma. Success stems from the fact that the iPhone is a compelling and innovative product in a high growth market space. These days, Apple can even change course, spawn exciting new businesses in a few quarters' time (iPhone apps, new emphasis on games) and effectively market said products.

People like Schiller, Jozwiak or Forstall can deliver a keynote, they don't match Steve Jobs for charisma but they will rehearse just as much, the presentation flow will be just as good. And ultimately, the announcements are more important than the presenter.

Joel West said...


I agree partially: I lived through (and wrote about) the dark Sculley, Spindler and Amelio years, and certainly there were problems of substance.

I also agree — as I’ve said before — that Apple has been making some great (like the iPhone) and near-great (the MacBook Air) recently.

However, if you look at all the great bounce -- and the loyalty of the faithful -- Apple gets from Steve Jobs and his ability to inspire PR, that can't be replaced. Think about all the Apple announcements of the past 10 years at Macworld up against Gates (or Ballmer) at CES. MS had a bigger R&D budget and a broader technology push and yet Apple got all the press. Or look at Nokia -- which has almost zero mindshare despite having solid products and technology.

So if Apple's showmanship and/or charisma regresses to the mean, it will not reduce the quality of the products, but I think it will reduce the effective of the bounce that the company gets from those products.