The rumor mill has been working overtime about the health of Steve Jobs, but whether the tech visionary is ill or whether he’ll lead Apple for another 20 years leaves open the question of who could take over when he’s gone.
The history of Apple suggests that a company’s culture is at least as important as the person at the helm, but in an organization so consumed with one quality—innovation, in Apple’s case—that quality almost certainly must remain.
Jobs left Apple before, so we have a tidy case history of that disaster.
Jobs tried to share and picked Pepsi chief John Sculley as a mentor, who wound up ousting Jobs in 1985. Sculley was a marketing whiz but, unlike Jobs, couldn’t imagine products that consumers didn’t know they wanted. Without its creative driver, Apple headed into a ditch.
By the time he returned in 1997, Jobs had reinvented movie animation at Pixar.
Now he needed to reinvent Apple. He proceeded to reroute the global music industry (he thought it was too late) and resuscitate Apple computers (it almost was too late). Now he’s trying to turn wireless phones into something customers don’t hate.
And succession? Whoever takes over can’t change Apple’s creative culture.
Right now, Jobs has highly competent money and operations people. That’s not enough. The only creative type getting stage time these days is an engineer named Scott Forstall, a wunderkind Jobs brought with him to Apple when he returned from the wilderness.
Maybe Jobs is irreplaceable. Most leaders are replaceable.
The lesson here: Train a replacement for yourself.
— Adapted from “The Sweet Revenge of Steve Jobs” and “Jobs 2.0,” Brian Caulfield, Forbes.com.
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