Apple without its core.
Steve Jobs quits as CEO of Apple. Leadership passes
to Jobs' hand-picked successor, Tim Cook, while Jobs to stay on as chairman.
Steve Jobs is one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the past century, founding or co-founding Apple, which revolutionized personal computing (iMac, iPad), consumer electronics (iPod, iTunes) and telephony (iPhone); Pixar, which did the same for animated motion pictures; and several other firms.
Jobs' withdrawal from Apple leadership has come in stages, starting most recently with his medical leave earlier this year, and now his move up to the non-executive role of chairman. (There was an medical scare and leave of absence in the 2000s.) There can be little doubt that Jobs will sooner than later quit the firm altogether.
Bill Gates took a similar, staggered leave from Microsoft, moving from CEO to chief technology officer before leaving to focus on developing-world charity activities. But Gates was not ill, as Jobs is, and his departure, no matter how gradual, couldn't disguise Microsoft's transformation from a growth company to an stolid utility that has met with little success outside its founding Windows franchise and whose stock has flat-lined for years.
Apple has considerable executive bench strength, tremendous brand recognition, many dominant product franchises, and an enviable presence in a diverse yet related group of industries centred on must-have gadgets. For all that, though, one could have said the same of faltering Nokia a few years ago, when the Finnish giant ruled cellphone design standards.
Jobs, shown right in a 1981 cover story, fit the stereotype of tyrannical impresario, an arrogant and egotistical monster on occasion, and only barely tolerable in polite company at the best of times. Which puts him in league with confectioner Forrest Mars, Henry Ford, Charles Revson, Gates and Silicon Valley rivals Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy, among others.
But Jobs inspired loyalty and creativity in one of the industries least forgiving of inattention to dynamic change, not only in technology but consumer tastes. Jobs anticipated and reacted to the latter better than anyone. Intel's Andy Grove is credited with the Silicon Valley slogan "Only the paranoid survive," but Jobs lived the maxim out loud. Investors and consumers benefited equally. At a time when America is in a despond about its slipping leadership in inventing and making things, the decline of Jobs' own health seems an apt parallel.
My guess is that Apple's best days are in the past. Apple really is a case of an institution being the lengthened shadow of one man, as Emerson had it. Jobs himself, asserting his importance, got it right, I think, in a long-ago interview:
Apple, briefly the world's most valuable company earlier this year, will do fine for awhile. Then it will begin to coast. Rivals will emulate its strengths and exploit its blind spots, as they've begun to do already. Without a daring genius to constantly reinvent the firm, Apple will become ordinary, as Microsoft has, no longer the trailblazer attracting the best and brightest talent.
The life and awesomeness of Steve Jobs. (Dan Frommer, BusinessInsider) (photo gallery)
What becomes of Apple without Steve Jobs? (James Temple, San Francisco Chronicle)
Jobs: A real-life Willy Wonka with an eye for detail, beauty. (Phil Rosenthal, Chicago Tribune)