Oftentimes the most useful clues about the future come from the past. Few questions are as important to ask as, What happened last time?
When attempting to decipher the changes that Steve Jobs’ transition away from leading Apple will bring, it’s essential to examine a surprisingly analogous case: Pixar.
Just as at Apple, Jobs served as CEO of the animation studio (and onetime computer hardware maker). When he arrived things were not going well and but for him the company would not have survived.
In its early years, Jobs took a direct role in Pixar’s business life and corporate method (but never in creating the movies), fighting off adversaries and serving as a public face for the company.
To this day, you would be hard pressed to take a tour of Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters (closed to the public) and not hear Jobs mentioned by the guide. He picked the doorknobs for the place.
(In a post published yesterday, Quentin Hardy of Forbes recalls a 1996 phone call he got from Jobs to boost coverage of Pixar’s earnings.)
But as his role as “iCEO” of Apple grew, Jobs delegated more and more day-to-day responsibility at Pixar, stepping in whenever necessary.
And then Bob Iger called.
Pixar merged with The Walt Disney Company in 2006 and Jobs took his seat on the Disney board as the company’s largest individual shareholder. Many suggested he would make a play for complete control of Disney. He didn’t.
Instead, he took on an even more detached role, leaving Pixar in the hands of creative spark John Lasseter and president Ed Catmull, whom he once described to TIME as a ‘babe in the woods’ who needed to be ‘turned into a businessman’ by him.
Since then, Jobs has provided specific leadership on a few select occasions. For example, he provided valuable insights into retail that helped Disney’s transform their once-lackluster stores. But he wasn’t responsible for implementing the redesign plans.
No one today would argue against Pixar being able to survive in a post-Jobs era.
But yesterday’s announcement is not the beginning of that era at Apple. While taking pressure off regarding succession, it changes little immediately compared to the past few months, during which Tim Cook has been overseeing day-to-day operations as acting CEO.
Pronouncements about Steve ‘beginning his ride into the sunset of history’ and being “too sick to continue working” are unwarranted sensationalism. (Sorry, Lonnie and Leander.) The most well-informed sources suggest Jobs’ function as Apple’s chairman will be much more hands-on than his post-merger role at Pixar, and I am optimistic.
But, ultimately, what matters is not how long the transition takes, but that the culture he put in place—of “good enough” never being good enough—continue. That the people leading the company stay true to it, respect it, and build on it. I believe they will.
Exactly like at Pixar.
Mike Bastoli is the author of The Pixar Blog, named by The New York Times as the “definitive unofficial chronicler” of the studio.