The big risk for Apple without Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs greatest legacy is the Apple of today. That legacy faces a big risk without Jobs that Apple must be ready to handle.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

The passing of Steve Jobs impacted everyone in unexpected ways, and rightly so. There is no denying his genius, his ability to see what customers wanted, and his unflagging demand that Apple would sell no product that wouldn't give those customers exactly what they wanted. With Jobs gone, the focus turns to how Apple will fare going forward without that genius.

I have stayed out of the speculation about Apple without Steve Jobs, but a conversation I had yesterday drove home where I think Apple is at risk. That's what conversations with smart people can do (thanks Patrick Moorhead).

There is no question that Apple has a lot of talented people to continue producing outstanding products. The same folks that Steve Jobs led so successfully are still there, and Tim Cook is an effective leader by all accounts. While discussing this with Patrick one thing hit me that might impact Apple in the future.

Of Steve Jobs' many strengths overseeing Apple's product development, his refusal to release products that didn't live up to his expectations is legendary. There are stories told about Jobs killing products just prior to launch, sending the team back to the drawing board to start again. Jobs would not follow the standard industry practice of releasing a product that didn't fully meet customer's needs, and then fixing it later. There is no doubt this is a reason Apple's products have been received so well by customers.

With Jobs gone, even with the outstanding design team at Apple and all of the great engineers, it is not clear who will step up in two areas. Firstly, is there anyone at Apple that can recognize a product that is not quite good enough to the level that Jobs did? More importantly, does anyone have the moxie to kill such a product late in the development cycle and send the team back to the drawing board?

Perhaps Tim Cook is the man to do that, but frankly there are very few executives in business possessing what it takes to be willing to stop a product after incurring great expenses producing it for launch. Few executives will be willing to admit internally "we are wrong, this is not good enough". More importantly, few executives in business have the ability to do this without demoralizing the talented team that produced the inferior product, instead energizing them to do it again, better.

Steve Jobs did all of those things at Apple, and the company's reputation and product lines reflect that. Apple didn't become one of the largest companies in the world by accident, it was a direct result of offering superior products. If that slips even a little, the company will be at risk for a drop in reputation, and a subsequent loss of faithful customers.

Hopefully Tim Cook and all the executives at Apple will be willing to do what it takes to prevent compromises in the company's products. Steve Jobs tormented Apple's competitors for years with his refusal to produce products "just good enough". This is the big risk to Apple without Jobs; that everyone will be afraid to step up when necessary and say "it's not good enough for our customers".

More importantly, someone must have what it takes to stand up to the product team, senior executives, and the board to justify eating the expense of starting over. It may seem to be just common logic, but in business this is very, very difficult to do. Steve Jobs was one of the very few in business that could do that. This is Apple's biggest exposure without Jobs.

Image credit: Flickr user luc legay

See also:

ZDNet RoundupSteve Jobs tribute

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