Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 13 hours or so, you’ve probably heard that Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple. He has asked to move to the position of Chairman of the Board, and he’s requested that current Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook step into the CEO seat. This isn’t much of a change, as Cook has been acting in the role since January of this year, when Jobs stepped aside due to medical reasons related to his battle with pancreatic cancer. One can only assume that if he is resigning today and completely stepping back that this medical battle isn’t going as well as he might have hoped and that he will need to devote time and energy to his healing process that would otherwise be distracted running the largest company of all time.
This announcement happened when it did for a good reason. Apple is rumored to be on the verge of announcing the iPhone 5. In fact, I expect to see the confirmation of an event happening in mid-September sometime late next week, after news of Steve’s resignation calms down. Had Jobs waited to announce his resignation between the pre-event release and the actual event, it would have overshadowed the launch of what will likely become the most successful phone in the history of the company. People are salivating over the prospect of a new iPhone, and the fact that it wasn’t announced at WWDC this year is whipping the fanboys into a frenzy. Stepping down now allows all the retrospectives and analysis to happen ahead of the new product launch, while not casting an iCloud on it (see what I did there?).
Tim Cook will be scrutinized at this event like no time in his past. Sure, he’s launched products before in place of Captain Turtleneck, but this time he isn’t just a temp filling in for the man. Now, he *IS* the man and the leader of the Cult of Steve. If he comes across as confident and reassured, people will be happy and content. If he feels nervous or ill-suited for his role at the head of Apple, both he and the stock price won’t last long. Much has been written about what will happen to Apple after Steve’s departure, due to the effect his strong personality has on the direction of Apple’s business. Much like Oracle and Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs drives his company through force of will. His aesthetic ideas become design mantras. If he thinks something needs to be jettisoned for the greater good, out it goes. Cook may not be the man to do all that. He may just be a steward that shepherds the last of Steve’s designs out the door before taking a bow himself. I’ve always said that in football, you never want to be the coach that follows a legend. Here, I’m thinking that Tim Cook may not want to be the CEO that follows an even bigger legend.
I think the Jobs Design Philosophy is still ingrained enough at Apple that the next generation or two of products will still be wild sellers. The iPhone 5, iPad3, and rumored redesigns of 15″ MacBook Airs and the like will still bear enough of the imprint of the former CEO to keep the company riding high for some time to come. Much like a football coach that takes over for a legend that has recruited the best players and goes on to win a championship with that talent, the hangover effect of Jobs will last for a while. The worrisome thing is what happens after Generation+2. Will the design wizards be able to continue the success? Will the company have enough fortitude to make crazy decisions now to pay off later, like that whole silly notion of a tablet device. Taking risks got Apple where it is today, but only because Steve Jobs was a risk-taker. If that mentality hasn’t been cultivated among those left in the company, we could find ourselves quickly repeating history when it comes to Apple and their slice of the market.
I’m sorry to see Steve Jobs go. Yes, I’ve poked fun at Macs before, but truthfully I’m starting to come around a little. I think now the important thing is for Jobs to take all the time he needs to stay healthy and impart some wisdom from time to time at Apple. I think that Tim Cook will do a wonderful job keeping things afloat for the time being, but he needs to be very careful in continuing the innovation and risk taking that has made Apple a serious contender in the personal computer market. If Apple become complacent, there’s a long spiral to fall down before hitting bottom again. Only this time, the man with the turtleneck isn’t going to be waiting to swoop in out of the cold and pick them back up again. Who knows? Maybe Woz is just biding his time to make a triumphant return…