Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

Summary: Lots of people are talking about why Apple will continue its momentum even without Steve Jobs as CEO. Here's the counterpoint.


As Steve Jobs permanently steps down as CEO, Apple is on top of the world. It has redefined the smartphone and the tablet in an era when those two devices are destined to dominate the next stage of computing. It has become the most valuable and most profitable technology company in world and one of the planet's most powerful and recognizable brands. For a brief time when the stock market was going through its recent gyrations, Apple even passed Exxon Mobile to become the most valuable company in the world.

But, for those of us who have been around the tech industry for the past three decades, the most eye-popping thing Apple has accomplished in the past 14 years since Jobs returned to Apple was to turn the tables on its old rival Microsoft. Apple used to argue that it made higher quality products and out-innovated Microsoft, even if Microsoft made a lot more money by selling tasteless products to the masses, according to Jobs. In 2011, Apple now makes even more money than Microsoft (which still makes a lot in its own right).

But, Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO will inevitably put Apple's future at risk. You're going to read a lot of articles in the coming days where people are going to tell you all of the reasons that Apple is going to be fine and that the legacy of Steve Jobs will be enough to sustain the company for decades, and that Apple will be like Disney after Walt Disney's departure. Here's the bottom line -- there's simply no scenario in which Apple can be better without Steve Jobs as CEO than they were with him there.

Sure, Jobs will still be around as Chairman, but that's a lot different than being in the trenches with engineers and designers every day. Few tech CEOs have ever been as hands-on as Jobs, and without him in the mix there's going to be a gaping hole in Apple's company culture and collective psyche.

Here are five big questions that Apple will have to face without Jobs involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. None of them have good answers, and that's why Apple will be hard-pressed to continue its unbroken run of successes as Jobs exits the front of the stage.

5. Who will ignore what the public wants?

A few years ago, Jobs said, "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give it to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." That was his approach to product development throughout his career. He never tried to keep up with what the masses wanted, but tried to give them something new to fall in love with. Very few people in history have been as good as Jobs at judging what large numbers of people will want before they know they want it. Even fewer have ever had the guts to place big bets on those things. It's unlikely Apple will ever find another leader who can do that like Jobs, and that more than anything else has been the key to Apple's recent success.

4. Who will shame people into greatness?

The Steve Jobs management style is not normal in corporate America. He was notoriously abrasive, confrontational, and borderline-inappropriate. He got in people's faces. He called them names. He demeaned their humanity. And yet, plenty of Apple employees will say that he pushed them to create the greatest work of their careers. As a people manager, he was the Bobby Knight of tech. From the outside, a lot of people were appalled by the stories of Jobs' behavior toward his employees, but insiders will tell you that he could also be extremely generous, enthusiastic, and charming. And, when he praised an employee, it was like they just hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. Jobs could get away with this behavior -- which gets most CEOs despised or fired -- because he was Steve Jobs. Apple probably won't ever have another leader with this decidedly old school management approach -- much more in the Vince Lombardi tradition than the modern Ken Blanchard mode. But, the main reason Apple's products are so polished is a result of Jobs' ferocious perfectionism.

3. Who will take the big risks?

It's easy to forget that when Apple first announced the iPhone, there were a lot of people in the technology industry who scoffed or snickered. CIOs called it a "toy." Research in Motion openly mocked the iPhone for a couple years and completely dismissed it as a competitor to the BlackBerry (we see how well that worked out for them). Most of the telecom carriers even ignored the iPhone for years before they weren't willing to deal with Apple's demands. The point is that Apple had a lot to overcome to create a successful mobile phone. It took years. It took a lot of money. It took a lot of relationship-building. And, there was never any guarantee of success. In fact, in 2007 when Apple first launched the iPhone, it was probably more likely that the carriers would find a way to lock out the iPhone or cripple it. The whole thing could have turned into a major distraction and a money pit. Instead, because the public loved the device, it pushed the entire smartphone industry in a different direction. It was a huge risk, but when it was successful, it came with a huge reward. Jobs took a similar risk with the iPad three years later, and got a similar result. Will new CEO Tim Cook be willing to take those kinds of risks? Or, more importantly, will he be smart enough to take the right kinds of huge risks? It's hard to imagine anyone doing it better than Jobs has done over the past decade -- even Jobs himself would have had a hard time emulating his success over the next decade.

2. Who will say "No"?

Jobs once said, ”I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things [we] have done. Innovation is saying 'no' to a 1,000 things.” I recently wrote an entire piece about this topic: White iPhone debacle shows why Apple is winning. That article is about the fact that Apple promised a white version of the iPhone 4, but had to delay it multiple times (after several more "coming soon" promises). The product wasn't right and Apple refused to release a White iPhone 4 to the public until it was right. Most companies would have just released it earlier. Trust me. I see a ton of tech products come across my desk every month that still need to be finished and should have never been released. This is another example of where Jobs' relentless perfectionism has powered Apple's string of successes. Saying "no" is hard. It disappoints people. It can make your company look bad in the short term. It can put a lot of heat on you. Most companies say "yes" way too often. Apple will have to institutionalize and internalize the kind of discipline that Jobs repeatedly demonstrated. That's a tall order.

1. Who will conjure the "magic"?

Lots of leaders use hyperbole to promote their products, but only Steve Jobs can actually get a lot of people to believe it. I've been puzzling over this for years. Why do so many of the same people who turn cynical when most CEOs go into their sales pitches perk up when Jobs unleashes his bold claims about Apple products? Is it because Jobs has led so many successful projects in the past? Is it because he's more persuasive? Is it because he has a great team that has repeatedly delivered quality products? It's probably a little bit of all those things, but more than anything else, it has to do with Jobs' charisma and communication style (which aren't easily emulated). Jobs is generally pretty low-key and subtle, but then all of the sudden he'll fire off a big hyperbole or an enthusiastic flare. The contrast of the two styles seems to have the effect of making people say to themselves, "Whoa, if he thinks it's big and is getting excited about it, then it must be important." That's why people fall for it when Jobs dubs a tablet computer as a "magical and revolutionary" thing. It's not just Job's discipline and knack for taking the right risks that has made Apple successful, it's his own ability to promote Apple's products and get millions of people excited about them. That's worth more than millions of dollars of marketing, and it's the one thing that is almost completely irreplaceable.

Also read

This was originally published by TechRepublic.

Topics: IT Employment, Apple, CXO, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    You should know that Crafty men condemn studies; simple men admire them and wise men use them. Be a wise man and use the education to get a job, search online for "High Speed University" you will be surprised to learn how fast it is to get degree and pump up your resume
  • Life is Dynamic Jason

    Let's get things straight.<br>Nothing *ever* stays the same.<br>And that is a good thing.<br>Makes life more interesting, don't you think? :/
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

      Not all change is a good thing.

      Steve Jobs did a lot of good for the tech industry, and his loss will be felt.
      Michael Alan Goff
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    Nice piece, Jason. Well thought out and clearly expressed. It will indeed be a challenge for Apple to continue as it has in the past decade, but then if it did it would probably have more money than the rest of the world, accomplishing what Mr. Gates thought to do. I suspect the next three to five years are already mapped out. Mr. Cook appears to have the cajones to push as hard as Mr. Jobs as he took a well known mess called Apple's supply chain and turned it into one of Apple's best resources. Will he have the wherewithal to fill those rather large shoes? I'm not sure anyone would or could. But, the Apple that Steve Jobs 'leaves' this time is not the same Apple that so ignominiously booted him back in the 80's. This Apple is a tech giant on a roll.
    • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same


      Correction: "Cojones"

      Cajones are big boxes.......
  • I think it is likely that Steve is dying.

    This move has been made to avert a stock run by placing Tim Cook as head of the company now while Steve still lives. When the announcement is made a few weeks or months from now the impact of Steve's death will be lessened considerably by this move. I hope I am wrong but I think this makes a kind of sick sense.

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
  • Jobs had something else going for him:

    He built the place.

    While Apple has been a public company for nearly all of its existence, everyone knows Steve Jobs wasn't just CEO. He "owned" the place. And everyone knew that nobody was more passionate about technology in general and Apple specifically than Jobs.

    In all honesty, Cook can't possibly pick up where Jobs is leaving off. He shouldn't try.

    But I think Cook can do the job and do it well. He's surrounded by good people who know their respective parts of the business. For a while, he'll still have Jobs to call upon for guidance, but I suspect he won't need it for long ... if at all. He seems like a bright guy, more than capable of guiding great people to accomplish extraordinary things -- he just has to pick and choose which are the right things to do, and which aren't.

    People have to remember that Jobs was neither a hardware guy nor a software guy. He was, essentially, a marketing guy. (Woz was the hardware and software genius, originally.) Jobs was just damn good at figuring out which technologies made the most sense -- which ones would eventually change the world, if packaged and presented right. Arguably, he was better at it than anyone else has ever been -- at least in the tech and consumer electronics (and entertainment) industries.

    But Apple appears to be in good hands, with Cook steering the ship.
    • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

      <ul><i>He was, essentially, a marketing guy.</i></ul><p>Yes, and the best one we've seen for a long time. A lot of people use the term 'marketing' as a synonym for 'advertising.' It's not. Marketing is what Steve Jobs does. He watches technologies and he understands -- sometimes years before it will happen -- how some new development will up-end the status quo. Then he arranges to be there when it happens.

      I don't think it's accurate to say, as JH does, that Jobs knew what people wanted before they knew themselves. Virtually all of Jobs' Greatest Hits involved the application of new technology to a task that people were already spending money on. Sony had led people down a long progression of portable music players, from the first transistor radio to the DiscMan. But Jobs is the one who saw that flash memory and compression algorithms, applied to the portable music player, would throw Sony off the field.

      Still, I think JH is asking the right question. Odds are, Sony would have seen the MP3 player coming before Jobs did if Akio Morita had still been around. Morita was Sony's Jobs... the visionary who started the place and came up with one amazing innovation after another. Sony hasn't been the same without him.

      When it comes to the loss of the fire-in-the-belly founding entrepreneur, there are a lot more Sony stories than there are Disney stories.
      Robert Hahn
      • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

        @Robert Hahn
        Agreed about Akio Morita.
        I remember that back in the 80s if you wanted a good product (and could afford it) Sony was the brand to get.

        IMO, Sony have become just another "crap-producing" company since he died.
        That is to say, it is run by know-nothing business school graduates.
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    Very well said: "Steve Jobs just knew what the technology will change the world." And it's true, and therein lies its genius. Genius can replace only a genius, just a good singer will fail, because that is blind. (http://bank-of-ideas.ru)
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    There were numerous MP3 players on the market before Apple got in the game. Same is true of personal computers, GUIs, tablets, smart phones.

    Apple got it right because of their business model wasn't just selling hardware.. It was about selling an entire integrated ecosystem of products/services - locking out the rest of the market, to make a unified, pleasant experience for their customers. This was the only way to keep the experience "pleasant".

    Not the value of being first (Apple was rarely first in anything) , not being most innovative (what ever that means) Only by being the most consistent, reliable, least frustrating product of it's kind. Regardless of the product being a computer, mp3 player, cell phone, music sales, etc..
    That is the vision (value) Steve Jobs brought to Apple.
    With technology's versatility and complexity understood, the only way to keep the general public's experience "pleasant" among a every widening group of products.. was to control the entire experience from a common perspective (Jobs).
    It remains unclear if there is enough persistence in Job's perspective (vision) remaining in Apple for it to meet the public's future needs or for how long.
    Time will tell.
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    I did like the Walt Disney comparison. However my comparison is is completely opposite. I would compare it to Jim Morrison and the Doors. Jim Morrison was the doors and his band was nothing more than hired help.

    I highly suspect that Steve Jobs won't be with us for more than 6 to 12 months and that this move was made to keep the stock somewhat stable.

    Tim Cooks real test will be after the death of Steve Jobs.
    Without the backing of Steve Jobs, we will find out if Tim Cook can fill those shoes.

    I can very easily see high level back stabbing and internal fights for the Ceo position in the future.

    Apple will be very interesting to watch over the next few years.
    • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

      ?????????? ? ????:
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    Decent article, I'll give it a 6.5. Get rid of the sports analogies and you'll get a solid 7.
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    I agree with Pagan Jim and darkside that Jobs will die soon, likely in less than 6 months. He would never have resigned otherwise.
    The continuing success of Apple will be strongly tied to Jobs' name, implied if not outright openly used with each new product announcement for years to come. Disney did this for many years after Walt's death. NASCAR is still using Dale Earnhart's name and image 10 years after his death to prop up their sagging popularity. There comes a time though when this kind of marketing is nothing more than morbid.
    How long will Apple stay on their current roll without Jobs? One to three years, or whenever their current product roadmap (Jobs') runs out. Then they're going to need every cent of that $76 Billion rainy day fund just to stay alive.
    • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

      who'll be next jobs jr?
  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    If you've been paying attention to Apple for the last 5 years, you'd know that this article was pointless!
  • Steve Jobs After the Resignation

    Steve Jobs After His Resignation:

  • RE: Without Jobs as CEO, five reasons Apple won't be the same

    great article