I hate to say it, but I have a bad feeling about Steve Jobs’ latest leave of absence. I’m not optimistic he will return to Apple. He’s been gravely ill and has cheated death, but there are some hard numbers about cancer and transplant survival rates that even someone as charmed as Jobs can’t escape.
I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I get a feeling this is the start of Steve Jobs moving on from Apple. There will be a slow phasing out this year as he hands the reigns to Tim Cook. I expect it will be drawn out, a gradual transition of power. But I don’t think Jobs is returning to Apple.
The big question, of course, is how Apple will do without him.
Tomorrow, AAPL stock will get repeatedly kicked in the face. It’ll be down 10–20% because of idiots don’t realize that Apple’s not the same company it was 20 years ago and ignoring the upcoming iPad 2 and iPhone 5, among other things. It will thrive in the next two to three years, thanks to the current product pipeline.
Apple now has plenty of capable people, and although Jobs is a visionary, it’s not like he’s alone in dreaming up Apple products and then refining them for prime-time in his office. Tim Cook, Jonathan Ive, Phil Schiller and others are ‘Apple’ too, and Cook’s already been a great ‘acting CEO’ for the company before.
Apple is not, and never has been, just Steve Jobs. The company is so big now, it’s like 10 separate business — tablets, phones, digital media, retail stores — and they are all brilliantly run. As analyst Charlie Wolf told the New York Times, Apple’s executive team is the one of the greatest in American business.
As I argue in my book about Jobs, Inside Steve’s Brain, he has managed to turn his personality into Apple’s business processes. His perfectionism, obsessive drive for excellence, his instinct for simplicity and great design, have all become hallmarks of how Apple does things.
For example, Apple’s ability to create innovative products springs directly from Job’s relentless striving for perfection.
Jobs’ perfectionism, for example, has created at Apple a unique product development process that is based on the rigorous prototyping of new products.
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 remade, over and over. Many products are prototyped hundreds of times, and often scrapped and then started over from scratch. This process started with the original Mac. Jobs insisted the machine be remade over and over during its three-year development cycle until he was satisfied it was as great as it could be. It’s the same process that has led to the ‘discovery’ of the iPhone, iPad and other breakthrough products.
It’s one man’s perfectionism that has become entrenched as a business process. Jobs has his input, but so do his engineers, designers, and programmers. It’s not reliant on Jobs alone — and it’s easy to imagine that the process will operate without him.
The best evidence that this works is Jobs’ other company, Pixar (now owned by Disney). Both Apple and Pixar are based on this same creative process. Both companies are run by small, tightly integrated “A Teams” that work serially on one product after another, everyone chipping in ideas and fixing problems. Just as Apple’s A Team work on one product at a time, refining and perfecting it, so do Pixar’s animators, writers and directors.
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.
Apple will be fine without Jobs, although it won’t be the same. It won’t shine quite as brightly. It’ll be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger.
But Apple will survive.