OK, enough is enough. We all know Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO and we’ve been inundated with stories and theories about what will happen at Apple in his absence. My personal favorite headline of the last week was ‘Jobs exit opens door for nimble Apple rivals’ and from Reuters, no less! What nimble Apple rivals, they are usually six months to a year behind! And how about this classic from the San Jose Mercury, ‘Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO, stunning tech world!’
Give me strength, please, the man has recently overcome pancreatic cancer, had a liver transplant and looks almost skeletal in stature. Everyone knew he couldn’t continue in the role and I am certain no-one was surprised that he was stepping down, except for the Mercury, it seems.
What is most amazing is that anyone that has followed this man’s career would have any doubt that he has planned anything less than a meticulous succession process within Apple. The most popular of concepts, and probably the one furthest from reality, is that Steve Jobs has single-handedly masterminded – from conception to stunning success – every Apple device since his return to Apple in 1997. This is a man that has created a culture that attracts brilliant people not wanting to be cloistered by traditional corporate structures. He has attracted the right people; given them an environment they can flourish in and managed to keep in private enough so that competitors have no idea what will hit them next.
Apple’s success can be put down to the environment Jobs has created and a seemingly endless stream of innovation. Just when you think Apple can’t possibly come up with something new and innovative that is bound to become an industry standard, they do. This type of innovation is not a lucky guess, it meticulously assesses what people will want to have and use, even before they know it themselves. Every device Apple makes appeals to people, not board members and shareholders, but to the people that will want to buy them.
The close-knit environment that Jobs has fostered inside Apple is also incredibly disruptive. Not for the company, but for the industry sector the new devices address and Apple’s competitors who, despite their size and historical positioning, fail to see it coming and then fail to respond in a timely manner. By the time they have come up with something remotely close to Apple’s original idea Apple releases an improved and even more attractive version, as if to goad them into a competitive situation they simply cannot win.
It’s this disruptive element of Apple that has cost mobile phone makers like Nokia, dearly. Who would have imagined a notebook so thin it could not support a built-in DVD player? Or a tablet device that had no USB port and relied on wireless to communicate with other devices? Or a solid-state music player that used a circular pad instead of buttons? Or a one-stop online music shop that would sell billions of music tracks at a time when record sales were dropping? Or an online store that would attract every application developer in the world because of its fair revenue sharing policy?
It must have come as a shock that the iPhone, one mobile device, could have had such an impact on the telecoms industry as a whole. Make no mistake, it singularly drove the mobile data revolution that has morphed into iPads and a slew of ‘wannabe’ devices. Remember, there were no Android phones back then. Up to that point we had dongles connected to PCs as the main thrust of the online wireless data revolution and we were offering ’all you can eat plans’ just to get people onto mobile networks. My, how times have changed!
Jobs will be leaving Apple in fine hands and his legacy will carry forward for many years to come. Brilliant innovation doesn’t happen overnight and you can bet teams are working on the next ten groundbreaking devices right now. No matter how sick he gets he will still be around to give his ideas and opinions. However, his own, handpicked team including CEO, Tim Cook, who has been doing a great job during Jobs’ illness, will lead the company.
There may be a lesson to be learnt for telcos around the world concerned at what the future may hold. Having an enigmatic CEO with foresight able to lead by example and have the guts not to be hampered by overbearing and often conservative boards is one thing, being willing to innovate and fund that innovation is quite another. It’s way too easy to cut costs and hunker down for the short term, but much more difficult to be bold enough to invest in innovation to protect the future. That’s the Steve Jobs way.