Apple’s Success and Steve Jobs’ Succession

2004: Few would argue that much of Apple’s success over the past six years can be attributed to Steve Jobs. He gave Apple a strong mandate, pared down the product line, and really helped focus the company on delivering Mac OS X. Without these three things, it’s entirely possible that Apple wouldn’t be in as good shape as it is today.

Mac Scope

Power Mac G4 CubeJobs didn’t get everything right, and the Cube is a testament to his inability to turn everything into gold, but for the most part Steve Jobs has been good for the company. I’m not exactly a huge Steve Jobs fan, but his influence and control over Apple are undeniable, and he does deserve a good amount of praise for what he’s done.

Jobs’ influence would appear to be so great that it can be hard to separate the man from the company. Jobs and Apple are entwined quite tightly in the minds of Apple users as well as others. Much like Bill Gates is Microsoft, Steve Jobs is Apple.

While this is a fairly benign thing, it is not always healthy. With Jobs so closely identified with Apple and – perhaps more dangerously – with the success of Apple, much depends on his continued existence as CEO of Apple.

Apple without Jobs has long been considered a bit of a failure.

What if Steve Jobs ever left Apple? Perhaps he’ll get tired of the computer game and decide to raise kumquats. Or maybe his helicopter will crash on a trip between Apple and Pixar. For whatever reason, could Apple survive and thrive without Steve Jobs?

The key to the continued success of Apple without Steve Jobs (long may he rule) would be a strong succession plan. There’s no doubt that Apple could move along well enough for a short time without Jobs at the helm as current projects played themselves out. However, after projects blessed by Jobs wrapped up, a new CEO would have to be ready with a new plan.

Apple’s succession plan is hardly a public document. The closest reference I could find was a passing mention that Apple had excellent corporate governance, which usually included an effective CEO succession plan (TI, Apple Get Pats on Back). Apple’s Compensation Committee and Corporate Governance Guidelines documents also make passing reference to succession planning.

While a succession plan would make the utmost sense, Jobs does not seem like the type to groom a potential competitor. CEOs must be brutally honest with themselves when considering a successor, and the fact that many companies tank quite badly after a CEO leaves is a good indication that sitting in the CEO’s chair is not conducive to letting others have a turn or even entertaining the thought of letting others have a turn.

Then again, Jobs has mellowed in recent years. In perhaps the biggest example of learning from past mistakes, Apple cozied up to HP and, gasp, licensed HP’s technology. It’s not too big a stretch to think that Steve Jobs sees the wisdom in a good succession plan.

The succession plan at Apple may be more important that at most other companies. As I mentioned, Apple success is (rightly or wrongly) attributed to Steve Jobs. The stock and the company would suffer a nasty shock if he ever left without a clear plan of action.

Update: Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, 2011.

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