Three Reasons Why Apple Will Survive Without Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs in January 2008. Picture by Macinate. Creative Commons.

In the wake of Apple pulling out of Macworld — and the prospect that Steve Jobs may leave the company — many are wondering if Apple will survive without him.

The answer is yes, Apple will definitely survive without Steve Jobs. It may even thrive.

Here’s three reasons why, after the jump:


1. Apple Survived Without Jobs Before

We’ve been here before. In 1985, Jobs was forced out of Apple after losing a boardroom battle for the company with CEO John Sculley.

Sculley was Apple’s CEO for the 10 years, during which it became one of the biggest PC makers in the world and saw its revenues increase ten-fold –œfrom $1 billion annual revenues to $10 billion.

Of course, it all went south after that, and Apple might easily have ended in bankruptcy if Jobs hadn’t returned to save it (and lead it to much greater success.)

Of course, the entire computer industry might be very different today if Jobs had stayed on in ’85, but the point is history shows us that Apple thrived in the decade after Jobs, and will likely do so again.

2. The Routinization of Charisma

More importantly, this time around Jobs has turned his personality traits into business processes at Apple. It’s called the “routinization of charisma,” a term coined by sociologist Max Weber.

In corporations, the routinization of charisma is the process of turning a charismatic business leader’s personality traits into business processes.

Intel cofounder Robert Noyce, for example, was an exceptionally collaborative and democratic leader — two traits closely associated with the culture of Sematech, the semiconductor consortium Noyce led after retiring from Intel.

Sematech’s exceptionally collaborative culture was a direct consequence of Noyce’s collaborative leadership, according to management experts J Beyer & L Browning, who closely studied the consortium to create a widely-cited case study about the routinization of charisma. (Transforming an industry in crisis: Charisma, routinization, and supportive cultural leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 1999.)

Most importantly, the collaborative culture survived well after Noyce’s untimely death, because it had become so entrenched in the organization’s culture. The “cooperative and democratic practices survive Noyce’s death and still persist,” Beyer and Browning wrote.

Beyer and Browning concluded that if a leader’s traits become routine, they survive as company traditions. They become so deeply ingrained, they characterize the way a company does business.

At Apple, Jobs’ traits — his obsessiveness, focus and passion for innovation — have been turned into distinct processes that will ensure Apple delivers a steady stream of hit products –œ with or without him.

Jobs’ perfectionism, for example, has created a system at Apple for exhaustively prototyping everything the company does — from retail stores to new products like the iPhone.

Where Jobs once used to throw substandard work in peoples’ faces and call it “shit” until it was done right, Apple’s staff now create and test new products over and over until they measure up to Jobs’ high standards.

Products like the iPhone do not spring fully formed from Jobs’ imagination. Rather, they are “discovered” through the creation of hundreds of prototypes, which are refined, edited and often remade. Many products are prototyped hundreds of times, and often started over from scratch. It’s one man’s perfectionism instituted as a company-wide “generate-and-test” prototyping process.

Jobs has his input, of course, but so do his engineers, designers, and programmers. It’s not reliant on Jobs alone and it’s possible to imagine the process operating just fine without him.

During the last dozen years he has been at the helm, Jobs’ personality traits have become so ingrained at Apple, the company will continue to turn out well-designed products, simple user interfaces, and a business culture focused on customer experience.

This is the focus of my book, of course, but others have recently come to the same conclusion.

“Steve Jobs’ spirit has been institutionalized,” writes AppleInsider, reporting an investor note from Kaufman Brothers analyst Shaw Wu. According to Wu, Jobs’ spirit and drive has been instilled in thousands of Apple employees, especially the executive team.
“We believe Apple today has a deep bench and its culture of innovation and execution or ‘spirit’ has more or less been institutionalized,” he wrote.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster made essentially the same point about Apple’s executive team in a mid-December research note.

3. Pixar

The best evidence that Apple will be fine is Jobs’ other company, Pixar (now owned by Disney). Both Apple and Pixar are based on the same “generate-and-test” creative process that allows products to be discovered during the prototyping process.

Jobs never managed Pixar the same way he manages Apple he was pretty much the absentee owner. But Pixar has produced one blockbuster after another, and it’s done so without Jobs overseeing the process.

Nonetheless, Apple without Jobs would not be the same. The most obvious difference is the man’s charisma. The company would not be as cool, and Macworld would not be the same. But Apple will survive.

  • Parik

    I agree with most of Leander Kahney logic and have read his book “Inside Steve’s Brain” several times. Its in the work culture and yes once that is instilled in the roots of the company it will survive relatively long.

    But the future of Apple is just as strong as the vision of the next CEO whoever that is, if they are in for a change. The key to Apple’s success is innovation and creation of breakthrough in the industry. Sculley was apples CEO sure but apart from the concept of the Newton, which was a new concept, innovation had come to a stand still. Profit were not achieved by innovation but by marketing. This is not the path Apple must go down.

    Innovation must be the strong hold and creativity must be constantly pushed. Breakthrough ideas and pushing the envelope with new concepts must be encourages. Apple must be focussed and must be calm, patient and thoughtful before entering new segments in the realm of expansion. It is there qualities that have made Apple what it is. I am a strong supporter of Apple surviving without Steve. I think the companies image is too dependent on one mans genius. Yes he is an icon and I am the biggest fan. But great men come and go but its their ideas and visions that stay. Steve had a dream for Apple. He was a visionary and it is up to us as a consumer and the future of Apples command line to make sure this vision is held high at all times.

    Coming to the cool factor, Apple will always be cool but it is up to them to make sure this image exists. It is the next product, pricing and the marketing that will decide this. I am an ardent fan and I have a vision as a fan as to where Apple must go. Masterminds at Apple, please don’t let me down!

  • Parik

    I agree with most of Leander Kahney logic and have read his book “Inside Steve’s Brain” several times. Its in the work culture and yes, once that is instilled in the roots of the company it will survive relatively long.

    But the future of Apple is just as strong as the vision of the next CEO whoever that is, if they are in for a change. The key to Apple’s success is innovation and bringing breakthrough product in the industry. Sculley was Apples CEO sure, but apart from the concept of the Newton, which was a new concept, innovation had come to a stand still. Profits were not achieved by innovation but by marketing. This is not the path Apple must go down.

    Innovation must be the strong hold and creativity must be constantly pushed. Breakthrough ideas and new concepts must be explored and encouraged. Apple must be focussed and must be calm, patient and thoughtful before entering new segments in the realm of expansion. It is these qualities that have made Apple what it is. I am a strong supporter of Apple surviving without Steve. I think the companies image is too dependent on one mans genius. Yes he is an icon and I am the biggest fan. But great men come and go. It is their ideas and visions that stay. Steve had a dream for Apple. He was a visionary and it is up to us as a consumer and the future of Apples command line to make sure this vision is held high at all times.

    Coming to the cool factor, Apple will always be cool but it is up to them to make sure this image exists. It is the next product, pricing and the marketing that will decide this. I am an ardent fan and I have a vision as a fan as to where Apple must go. Masterminds at Apple, please don’t let me down!

  • Shawen

    The fact that there is even a conversation about wether Apple will continue after Steve shows the single largest management failure that Steve has ever made. The lack of a public succession plan. It may not be popular but it is necessary for everyone to know who is being groomed to lead when the leader is no more. I too believe that Apple will survive after Steve. If for no other reason than inertia.
    I think Steve Jobs is a good leader. For him to be a great leader, in my opinion, he must orchestrate his departure. This is an incredibly hard thing for someone who has built a company to do. But for Apple to thrive after Steve it must be done and it is up to him to do it.

  • Leander Kahney

    @Shawen – you have a very good point. Jobs has run Apple so well, he must be cognizant of the need to hand over the reins in a well-ordered way. The lack of a public succession plan makes me doubt he will step down soon. However, I have a horrible feeling that there may be an announcement at Macworld. Maybe it will the “One Last Thing” at the end of Phil Schiller’s presentation. Steve will step out, the place will go nuts, and he will announce his succession plan…

  • Parik

    I agree with Shawen’s stand point. If I were Jobs I would have orchestrated the transfer of title in a more subtle manner. I would have given no clues about the products to be launched on the next keynote. I would have not given the keynote speech, which would be a huge surprise to the audience (still assuming that I was Jobs). Finally I would been seated between the audience and applaud the announcement of the new product and come up on stage and make an announcement saying “The Apple design team has truly created a marvelous product without my involvement”

    This is what would increase the stock of Apple. C’mon Steve, you hire Aerospace Engineers?

  • pirs93

    i think that apple is Steve Jobs he created all the most famous products of apple. if steve jobs leaves apple apple will not be apple
    i don’t know if apple will survive without him maybe yes maybe no how knows

  • J

    Not so:

    1.) Nonsense, Apple failed completely and was almost bankrupt after Steve Jobs left. Apples initial success – after Steve Jobs left – can be attributed to the momentum created when he was still with Apple.

    2.) Fancy words, but one incident is enough to dispel it.
    Read about the creation of the iPhone, especially when Steve Jobs rebooted the entire iPhone development process after a failure of the complete iPhone development team.

    3.) Steve Jobs recognized the exceptional talent of the creators of ‘Toy story’.
    In effect giving them a free hand to create what they thought of. And that was the only thing needed to generate success. So there is no difference without Steve Jobs, as long as Disney doesn’t change the formula.

    But there is a big difference with Apple, where Steve Job can be seen as (the only) one of the creators of ‘Toy story’.

    In short, Apple will probably do fine in the short run, but might still fail in the longer run if Steve Jobs is not there.

  • Bert Vanderveen

    The man has imbued the company with the right spirit — that will live on for years to come.

  • Shawen

    I would like to believe that Steve has imbued the company with the right spirit but I have yet to actually see that. It may well be that behind the scenes Steve has all of this well in hand. However, in typical Apple fashion no one on the outside has a clue wether or not this is true. That is the real problem! With no public display of the succession plan everyone is left to speculate. Most of the speculation is that there is no succession plan and that is VERY bad. Even without an orderly transition of power Apple will survive for quite some time, just look at Novell. However, with an orderly transition everyone will be assured that indeed Steve has turned his way of doing business into business practices that the company will continue to adhere to. Which will result in a strong and vibrant Apple moving forward. That would truly be a great legacy for a truly innovative man. Here is hoping!

  • Jem

    Is it bad form to mention that Jobs ain’t looking too well?
    Maybe he just needs some time off, perhaps for health reasons?

  • Olmecmystic

    Four years after Steve Jobs had a near-death experience (pancreatic cancer), I can’t believe the number of people who really think that Apple doesn’t have a succession plan firmly in place. Even if Steve tried to come back from that and say, “Hey, fellas! I’m back!”, the board would insist on a written succession plan just in case the worst happened.

    Just because that plan isn’t PUBLIC doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It if WERE public it would get picked apart BY the public…”You mean they think Phil Schiller can run the company?” “Tim Cook has the personality of rock.” “Jonny Ive can design products but can he be the head guy?” “Guy Kawasaki? Are they crazy?” On and on it would go, driving down the stock price all the while.

    I say that a company on a roll such as the one Apple has EARNED would certainly cover themselves for every contingency, ESPECIALLY by having a succession plan for the day Steve Jobs is not there anymore, for whatEVER reason. Steve is not stupid, the board is not stupid, and Apple has got the “bad guys” on the run.

    My two cents.

    Peace.
    Olmecmystic

  • Shawen

    I agree that there is probably some type of paper succession plan. I never meant that the entire plan in detail should be made public but there should have been some discussion about what happens and there should be more hand off by this point. If you think that the stock price would fall as people picked apart a public plan imagine what the stock price would do if Steve were unable to come to work due to health reasons. I believe last time the price fell by about 40 percent. I would expect that if he were unable to come to work now the stock price would initially fall BY AT LEAST half. The initial plunge in stock price is what some idea of succession is meant to minimize.

  • Edward Brown

    The operative word in your analysis of Steve Jobs and Apple is “Survive”. Charismatic Leadership is the salve necessary for companies during specific times of its existence. According to a USA Today article, “Charmed, I’m sure” by Steve Bodow (12/9/02), charismatic leaders enhance profitability during economic downturns. Jay Conger, a London Business School professor and USC researcher says that the traits that allow charismatic leaders to help enhance profitability are:

    · A restless compulsion to challenge the status quo. The charismatic leader is most at home, and most effective, in chaos.
    · A clear vision within uncharted territory to explore
    · An ability to articulate a vision compellingly to any audience and to imbue it with a sense of great importance.
    · An ability to create a sense that no other person could–or would–take the same tactic.
    · An ability to inspire and permit those around him to do extraordinary things.

    The distinction between Charismatic Leadership and Traditional Leadership should be noted, because pundits are inclined to use a “One size fits all” approach to business development. John Sculley was a stabilizing force for Apple during a period when traditional leadership was necessary. Traditional leadership often focuses more on business basics: budgetary cuts (usually for research and development, marketing and training), extension of previous brands, downsizing personnel, etc… In short, the company stays the course by concentrating on operations versus innovations. When a company loses its innovative edge, it’s often because it has swayed too far from its innovative roots. That’s when pundits claim a company has “lost its way.” Charismatic leadership gets the engines revved up again for new innovative breakthroughs.

    Apple will survive to the extent that it understands the innovation versus traditional process within its infrastructure. Even within the “Routinization” of charisma, a company will lose some of its luster with the absence of a charismatic leader/founder. Either the new management attempts to mimic the founder’s actions, without understanding the worldview or creative process of the charismatic leader, or begin “chasing rabbits” by being overly innovative for the sake creativity. At this point, there is no method to their madness.

    The panacea for the void Steve Jobs will leave is to maintain a compass of the conditions inside Apple. When it has swayed too far in the direction of innovation, steer the company towards stability. When it has become “too” stabilized with no new inventions or the stock value has plummeted, a “charismatic” or “innovative” process is necessary.

    Also, since it’s easier to find leaders within the Traditional Leadership Model, the next charismatic CEO should come from places like: Nintendo, Toyota or Electronic Arts. The corporate executive among these ranks who demonstrates the strongest creative independence combined with an insightful understanding of business practices should be considered to take over where Steve Jobs leaves off. This is how Apple will survive!

    Edward Brown
    Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute
    http://www.core-edge.com

  • Wikinerd

    May I just point out that for point 1 Apple survived, but barely before Jobs became CEO again. (and the products got worse and worse)

  • Cowicide

    Maybe they’ll bring Woz back?

  • Ska

    Three more reasons why Apple will survive:

    1. History need not repeat itself.
    Just because Apple failed without Jobs in the past doesn’t mean it WILL in the future too. Since the famed return of Jobs, his attitude for good design practices has indeed been institutionalized at Apple. Plus, we didn’t have Jonathan Ive, Scott Forstall, Phil Schiller, Tim Cook during the days of Sculley. And all these guys look more than capable of taking Apple further without Steve’s reigning hand. Upon Steve’s return in 1999, Apple has understood its essence more clearly than ever before, which is why Apple has succeeded so well in the recent years.

    2. Steve may retire but not tire.
    Steve’s passion is ‘tasteful technology’. I don’t think he will stop being involved with Apple just because he retires officially. He’s one of those zealous guys, who will remain involved with [Apple] Technology for as long as he lives (and let’s hope that’s a long time from now).

    3. The competitors in this landscape will continue to make Apple look cool.
    Think about it, if Apple, with all of Steve’s efforts of entrenching his spirit within its DNA, can still suffer in his absence, one can only imagine how badly off the other jokers in the industry will be, who don’t even have the advantage of such an inspiring influence or history for their companies.
    Just consider dodos like Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell … [OH, PLEASE!]
    So, i guess, these monkeys will ensure they make Apple look nonpareil.

  • Shawen

    I agree that Apple’s competition does a wonderful job of making Apple look cool. Also, Apple manages its image better than any other company in any industry.

    However, Apple needs a Steve Jobs to provide that single clear vision. The biggest problem his successor is going to have without an orderly transition by Steve is the “why should I listen to you” syndrome. Lets face it, Steve’s opinion carries alot of weight both inside and outside of Apple. The transition will allow some of Steve’s weight to be transitioned to his replacement. This will be different than the last time Steve left Apple because Apple realizes it needs someone to drive the technology side.

    Sculley knew nothing about technology so he let the technology stagnate which gave Apple’s distant competition time to close the technology gap. I used Apples extensively throughout the companies existence and I do not think that Apples got worse under Sculley. They just did not get better! That was the problem. A technology company that does not innovate is dying just look at Apple’s competition now.

    So whoever replaces Steve this time WILL be a technology person, the board will see to that. What the board can not do is convince the rest of the company to follow the new leader. This is the point of the transition, to provide enough time and experience with the new leader to build trust in him while the old leader is still there. Without this orderly transition chaos will ensue and Apple will begin its journey through the Novell desert of technology malaise while they try and innovate by consensus.

    It is Steve’s duty and his alone to make sure that Apple avoids this fate. I am just not sure that he could handle voluntarily removing himself from the loop and turning over HIS company to someone that could screw it all up. I have seen first hand how hard this is for people. However, not doing it is an almost certain eventual death sentence. Steve Jobs owes Apple more than that and Apple, for all of its foibles, deserves nothing less.

  • perkiset

    I am as big a fan of Jobs as the next guy, but I am a bigger fan of Apple.

    It is true that art is not built by committee, and the Mac and the derivative product lines has certainly been a work of art. This time around, when Steve departs, he will be leaving the legacy of a fully developed vision – a grokkable road map that has attracted like minded people to the cause. This is not the late 80s and the Apple board is no longer in need of a Sculley-like name to shore up their stock or convert their barefoot-in-the-boardroom leader’s eccentric image. Today, the out of the box thinking that became the original Mac has become the central way for development at Apple, and there are plenty people that will work tirelessly to preserve it.

    It will be painful, certainly, and probably not without misstep. But another artist will arise and the company will continue to blossom. He’s probably already there and has a larger stake than anyone knows. But as Olmecmystic said above, anything made public will be torn apart in public. I think they’re doing it the right way.

    Well, I *hope* they’re doing it all the right way… ;)

  • Chaz

    A public plan of succession would have a terrible impact on Apple. All of those exec’s who are on the list but not chosen to lead would be picked off by competitors, meaning that Steve would have to be assembling a new team, probably at the time he was trying to transition away.

    Not that I’m a fan of GE by any stretch of the imagination, but Jack Welch did one thing right, keeping his transition plan secret, and did anyone remember what happened when he named Inmelt, there was a wholesale departure of exec’s, that I’m not sure GE has recovered from. The difference is that Welch chased those other guys out so Inmelt could assemble his own team, not so with Apple, I think who ever succeeds Jobs will have a chance to consolidate the office and keep all the good talent he can because of the culture and positiion of Apple.

  • shdw

    It’s quite intelligently written article but you have one major logic fail in it. “Of course, it all went south after that, and Apple might easily have ended in bankruptcy if Jobs hadn’t returned to save it (and lead it to much greater success.)” – what you say means that apple could have been dead if jobs didn’t come back. so saying that apple already survived without jobs when he was the man who actually saved it is a bit nonsense.

  • SDJ

    The User, SHDW, beat me to it. Survival is Perpetual. If they were going to go bankrupt and need Steve to rescue them, then that negates your first point. Also, Steve Jobs is synonymous with Apple. He is a part of the Apple Brand. He both creates and is created by the Apple “brand.”

  • Hugh Hue Carroll

    Steve Jobs’ GREATNESS as a leader has been long established.

    Apple thrived under John Sculley BUT “went south”… especially under the helmsmanship of Gil Amelio. That’s how Leander Kahney sees it. Not nonsense if you know the corporation’s history, but it maybe needed extra information to FULLY make sense.

    LEANDER ~ enjoyed the piece; clicked on the link to check out the book; downloaded the pdf [your designer did a beautiful job there – love the Dockish chapter titles]; watched you make the case on YouTube…

    Bummer though… we now see that, at the Macworld keynote…………. there was no mention of STEVE JOBS, whatsoever. [I did like your theatrical touch, your version of “One More Thing” however]

    My idea would have been to bring Steve onto the stage VERBALLY, right up front… “I want you to know that ‘Steve Jobs’ [cheers]… he’s watching this… he’s gonna watch everything ~ he said to me: ‘Phil, I might learn something’…”

    A SUCCESSION ~ likely to be forced if Jobs’ health does not improve {{{c’mon Steve! – the world needs you, bud… pull through}}} such a succession will likely be for the markets and the anal-lists.

    And it’s a decision likely to be made by the Board. And if they try to please shareholders and their transient understanding, Apple is heading south again.

    For Apple to continue to thrive, it will need another VISIONARY, those rare types who, by definition, can “see” the future. Make the right choices at the optimum time.

    I’m a little fearful for Apple, Leander – less optimistic – BUT you know better than most how incredible is this man {I personally think he’s an ET} and… he’ll sense what’s coming… and already have his eye on a fellow traveller, someone maybe not yet part of Apple Inc., and hopefully, have time to finger her or him to Board-members like Al Gore…

    “Well, what Steve said to me ~ what he would have wanted…”

    MEANWHILE ~ for those who haven’t seen it:
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=