Look To IBM To See How Apple Can Survive Without Steve Jobs

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At first, the two companies seem as different as possible. IBM was part of the personal computer’s birth, while Apple has promoted the post-PC era. However, the young tech giant can take a lesson from the veteran computer company in how to survive the departure of a corporate icon. At the front of the class is Apple CEO Tim Cook, once an IBM exec.

Like Apple today, IBM had the same questions of how to survive the passing of a leader who embodied Big Blue. IBM chairman Lou Gerstner, Jr., after pulling the company back from bankruptcy, stepped down in 2002. Like Apple, Gerstner turned the reigns over to the head of sales and operations, Sam Palmasano. Before becoming CEO, Cook had been the Cupertino, Calif. company’s global sales head, Macintosh manufacturing guru and then Chief of Operations.

The key to both company’s success, according to the Wall Street Journal, which interviewed professors at Harvard’s Business School, is converting from a lone-wolf structure where one person has control of all aspects, to a more institutional process.

As IBM did following Gerstner’s departure, establishing company-wide connections rather than what the report calls individual “fiefdoms,” Apple in 2008 established the little-known Apple University to instituionalize Steve Jobs’ though process. Thursday, analyst after analyst pointed to that process as a hopeful sign Cook can continue Jobs’ success in a post-Jobs world.