Back in 1997, Apple was a company in turmoil. It was losing money. Its stock was at an all-time low. And it had experienced several failed attempts to improve the Mac operating system.
Fast-forward to today and Apple is a brand name recognized around the globe for its Mac computers, iPod music players, iTunes online store and most recently, the iPhone. It has a loyal, cult-like following of fans and was ranked by Fortune Magazine in 2007 as one of the Most Admired Companies. On Wednesday, it once again reported a financially-strong quarter, beating Wall Street estimates by a mile and selling millions more iPods than anyone expected for a dismal holiday season across every other industry.
During the years of the Apple's transformation, one man has been at the helm of the company: Steve Jobs.
But now he's sick, with a condition that we only know to be "more complex" than he originally believed. He's taken a medical leave of absence through the end of June. And everyone - from Silicon Valley bloggers to Wall Street investors - wants to know how he's doing, wondering if he'll really be able to return to work and, if not, what the company has planned in terms of succession.
Until now, the company has been silent about Jobs' health, maintaining the position that his health is a private matter. But on the earnings conference call Wednesday, Cook finally broke his silence and answered a question - sort of - about a Jobs-free company, should the CEO not return:
There is a breadth and depth and tenure among the Apple executive team and these executives lead over 35,000 employees that I would call all wicked smart. And that's in all areas of the company from engineering to marketing to operations and sales and all the rest. The values of our company are all extremely well entrenched. You know, we believe that we're on the face of the Earth to make great products and that's not changing. We're constantly focused on innovating. We believe in the simple, not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross pollenization of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly. we don't settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company and we have the self honesty to admit when we're wrong and the courage to change. And i think that regardless of who is in what job, those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.
Translation: Apple is not just Steve Jobs. It's a collaborative machine where creativity meets meticulous detail, a place where people know what the big boss demands and work hard to deliver to his satisfaction - even when he's not there. It's also the fan base, ready on the sidelines to spread the word for Steve and the company. And don't forget the power of the retail stores, there to pull in the newbies so they can touch and feel the Apple experience, right at the mall.
None of this is meant to imply that there's no value in what Steve Jobs does on the stage. Of course there is. But let's not fool ourselves either. Apple isn't going to throw jeans and a black turtleneck on just anyone and put him on stage as a fill-in to sell the products.
In fact, now that Mac, iPod and iPhone are household names, the company may no longer need a pitchman on stage, just like it no longer needs trade shows. People are already buying and, if Apple keeps delivering innovative technology and creative design, people will continue to buy. Based on what Cook had to say on the conference call, the internal Apple machine already knows that. There's no reason to think that, just because Steve Jobs isn't around, that the whole place - all 35,000 wicked smart people - will suddenly start slacking off and that the company will suddenly shrivel up. Nothing could be further than the truth.
Steve Jobs needs his rest. It's time to leave him alone and for all of us outsiders to quit worrying about the future of the company. Now that I've heard from Cook, I have a sense of relief that all will be fine in Cupertino. Wall Street has no reason to worry. Steve Jobs has left the company in good hands.