Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

Summary: When it comes to a CEO succession plan for Apple, it should be enough to know that a plan is in place. Releasing the details of that plan prematurely would be a bad move.

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TOPICS: CXO, Apple, IT Employment
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Years ago, when my kids were still wearing diapers and drinking from bottles, my wife and I decided that we needed a game plan in case something happened to either of us. Having that conversation was a very sobering experience, discussing all of the "what if" scenarios that could leave one of us as a single parent - or worse yet, leave our kids as orphans.

That last scenario is the worst. But, at one point, when she and I were heading on a cruise vacation that also involved a flight, we decided that we needed to put our wishes into writing - just in case we didn't make it back. And so we did - we wrote down our wishes for how our kids would be raised, put the document into a sealed envelope and put it away.

Here's the thing, though: We only told two people where that document could be found - our insurance agent (whom we know well) and a close friend. If something happened to us, they surely would hear about it and would be able to tell our parents where that document could be found.

Who we didn't tell were our parents - not because we didn't trust them, but because we didn't want to offend or hurt anyone's feelings about the path we'd chosen for our children. What if they didn't agree with our plan and it caused an argument or bad feelings? Certainly, that's not what we would want.

I share this story because the push for Apple to publicly disclose its CEO succession plan is grabbing headlines again. Now that Steve Jobs, a pancreatic cancer survivor who underwent a liver transplant in the summer of 2009, has taken yet another medical leave, shareholders are once again concerned about the fate of the company if Jobs takes a turn for the worst.

They have been calling for a public release of the succession plan - and now, the Institutional Shareholder Services has endorsed that push, according to a Financial Times report, adding more heat to an already sensitive topic. Apple, which says it has a succession plan in place is, of course, resisting such a disclosure.

When Jobs went on medical leave the last time and left Chief Operating Office Tim Cook in charge, there was a healthy debate on this blog as to whether Jobs - as an individual - had an expectation of privacy about his medical condition or whether the shareholders had a right to know more about something that could very well have a material impact on the company's future.

At this point, I'm inclined to side with Apple on this one. I agree that the shareholders should expect the company to step up with reassurances that Apple's executives and board of directors have talked about succession and have a plan in place in case it's needed.

But do we really need to know the details of the plan? Personally, I'm satisfied in knowing that an actual plan has been established. That's good enough for me - and should be good enough for anyone else.

Not only does that help Jobs maintain some privacy during what must be an incredibly difficult time for him but it also avoids the armchair quarterbacking that's sure to take place if the details are released. I can already imagine the frenzy of blog posts and TV talk show chatter that will try to break down every detail of that plan, pointing out anything and everything that could be perceived as a flaw or shortcoming.

Do we really need that sort of chatter around Apple - a company that beats all metrics when it comes to products, innovation and financial performance? While Jobs may be "the man" at Apple, it is not a company of one person. There are a number of talented and smart people on payroll - and, as illustrated during Jobs' last medical leave, the company didn't fall apart when he needed to step aside temporarily.

We can continue to have all of these discussions about succession plans - but at the end of the day, Apple would be smart to keep that plan in a sealed envelope, stashed away safely with the lawyers and out of the public eye.

If I were a shareholder, I'd be satisfied just knowing that there's a plan in place.

Topics: CXO, Apple, IT Employment

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19 comments
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  • Agreed, we just need to know that his health is a problem, and that there

    IS a plan. But, even then, having a plan does not help much, as the availability of possible replacements changes by the day, and you never know if they would accept if offered the position. The best they can do is disclose that he has health issues, but, respect his privacy, and, build as much talent in the executive ranks as possible.
    DonnieBoy
  • Irrelevant

    Leaders like Gates and Jobs come along so infrequently ... and not according to any plan ... that your discussion is moot.

    The only relevant assessment is how long Steve will live.

    I hate Apple's closed architecture and policies ... but I hope SJ lasts a good while yet. However so many people's future depends on his health that I also hope SJ himself breaks the customary secrecy. If he doesn't then we just look at the health stats. and make our own call.

    If I were him I'd retire ... but what are you going to do in retirement? Can there be anything more exciting than his current 'job'? I don't think so! Maybe his family have a view.
    jacksonjohn
  • I'm comfortable trusting Jobs on this

    Steve Jobs is one of the most aggressive CEOs in the country when it comes to the protecting his company.

    You can see that very clearly in the huge level of free cash that he (and others) have worked so hard to build up since his return. That $60 Billion is there first to protect the company in economic hard times as well as being able to take advantage of periodic opportunities.

    It would be difficult to believe that the Board and Executives have not discussed succession planning over the years - especially with the problems they encountered with CEOs between Jobs I and Jobs II.
    Ken_z
  • RE: Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

    Why? Who cares?
    Droid101
    • RE: Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

      @Droid101

      Obviously, you do.
      msalzberg
    • Well this fellow "Droid101" seems to have a great deal

      @Droid101
      on interest in this subject and to my recent memory almost every article written on Zdnet that is even slightly related to Apple.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
    • Where is the rest of the industry going to get new ideas!

      Duh! LMAO! The rest of the industry doesn't have a clue nor a direction.
      @Droid101
      GoPower
    • Who cares?

      @Droid101 Let me see if i got this right. All those share holders and you wonder who could care because you don't. Is that right? You don't care so the world should follow?

      Yours is a dizzying intellect.
      sportmac
    • RE: Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

      @Droid101 LOL still trolling in every Apple article you can! Way to go Droid101!
      athynz
  • Apple doesn't need a CEO succession plan...

    ...nearly as badly as Microsoft. Look at their respective common stock prices over the last decade.
    gfeier
    • I'm going to ruin your day....

      and point out how irrelevant stock prices are to the health of a company.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

        @goff256
        They aren't the single most important part of the health of a company, but stock prices are NOT irrelevant.
        nickswift498
  • I don't know.

    And I don't care.
    james347
    • RE: Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

      @james347 <br><br>As with droid101, you took the time to read the headline, open the article, read the article, and comment on the article.<br><br>It's obvious that you do care.
      msalzberg
  • RE: Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

    I agree with Larry. Leave well enough alone understanding that a plan is in-fact in place should worse come to worse. With the rapidly evolving changes in the tech sector, even for traditionally slow moving Apple... what is in effect this minute may well be irrelevant tomorrow.
    Playdrv4me
  • I think it's rather obvious

    Since Tim Cook is Steve Jobs' designated substitute, it would stand to reason that he's also Mr. Jobs' designated successor (for the time being, anyway).
    John L. Ries
  • Godfather Plans

    It's not just tradition that you appoint a Godfather or Godmother when you have kids in case the worst happens!<br><br>In this case having a 'plan' is just a way of putting off the action. They don't want to start looking for a new CEO so they're making a plan instead. It looks like action without actually being action.
    guihombre
  • RE: Apple's CEO succession plan: All we need to know is that it exists

    The irony of the whole situation is that one would certainly assume those who chose to take stock in Apple to begin with, did so with the understanding that secrecy is a big part of what makes the damn company tick. Which brings those astronomical returns in the first place!
    Playdrv4me
  • Smoke

    It really doesn't matter to your investments. If Jobs is gone, your stock will tank for a while. It even does when he goes on leave. If Cook takes over and does well, it'll come back up. Otherwise, it would go down eventually, regardless of what documents have been published. A published or announced but not published plan won't change the stock performance. I.e., if you're an investor, it effectively doesn't matter whether there is some plan.
    dunraven