The Third Post-Steve Jobs Era

The third post-Steve Jobs era arrived much sooner than anyone imagined.  Shortly after the markets closed in the U.S. on Wednesday, a news release arrived with a copy of Jobs’ e-mail to Apple employees in which he wrote that he “learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.”  The company barely survived his first, and forced, exit  (1985-1997) but did run smoothly during his absence for cancer treatment  (the second era).

It was less than two weeks ago that Jobs sent out a similar note, in which he acknowledged his weight loss and attributed it to a “hormone imbalance” for which he was already in treatment.  He termed the remedy as being “relatively simple and straightforward” and promised to continue as CEO.

Jobs is a popular figure in the computer industry, not only as the cofounder of Apple but as the revanchist CEO who ousted the regime at Apple that had ousted him in 1985, and then returned in 1997 to turn around the company.

Because Jobs is deeply involved (some say too much) in every aspect of Apple’s operations and successfully revived the then-struggling computer maker in the late 1990s with such products as the iMac, his health is a matter of concern, not only to family and friends but to Apple employees and investors.  Since a bout with cancer, treated successfully with surgery a few years back, pundits have counted his every sneeze.  The disclosure immediately sparked new concerns about a recurrence of cancer and about how much information Apple was holding back.  The hormone imbalance disclosure was roundly criticized by medical and corporate-governance experts earlier in the month as having been much too general.

The news caused the company’s shares to drop ca. 8% in after-hours trading.  Analysts suggested the stock could drop further when markets reopen and it was down almost 3% as we went to press.

The company’s COO, Tim Cook, who filled in for Jobs in 2004 when he took a leave of absence to battle pancreatic cancer, will also assume the reins now.  Cook is known more for his operations prowess than design prowess but the company has a skilled team of designers in place, all schooled in the Steve Jobs school of design, so it is likely that innovations will continue to appear from Apple for the foreseeable future.´

We don’t know what’s wrong with Steve Jobs but one doesn’t take a six-month leave of absence if it isn’t serious.  Wednesday’s note also included a promise: “As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out” so, health permitting, he will still be able to act as a kind of editor-in-chief even if not involved in day-to-day operations.  Change in any organization is a fact of life: at some point, Apple will have a new CEO and the new person will be filling some very large shoes.  Jobs has imbued the company with a mission, a way of doing things, and a very clear sense of good design.  It is likely that all of these will continue as Jobs’ legacy, when and if he should no longer be CEO.

To see how this might work out, Apple has to look no further than Redmond, where Microsoft is getting along quite well on a day-to-day basis without Bill Gates.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

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