In Issac Walterson's biography of Steve Jobs, Steve is repeatedly quoted in saying that he has strived to make Apple into an enduringly great company--one that will stand the test of time. Yet so much of Apple revolved around the cult of Steve Jobs and his "reality distortion field" that it is very hard to imagine Apple without him. So what is the chance that Apple will thrive in the post-Steve era?
In Jim Collins book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't, he described the seven characteristics that companies who had made the leap from average performance ("good") to exceptional Performance ("great"). Under Steve Jobs, Apple exhibited all but one.
First who than what: Steve was fanatical about hiring the right people. Shortly after his return to Apple, he would hound someone to come to work at Apple if he taught that the person was right for the job. He was equally merciless in firing someone if he thought that the person was not performing. He always struggled to have only A players on his team.
Confront the brutal facts: Steve was brutally honest. Although he had a magical way of getting what he wanted out of a product, he never hid from failure. When products didn't work out (remember "Mobile Me"?) he wouldn't hesitate to kill it.
Hedgehog concept: Steve's greatest strength was his ability to focus like a laser on a few products. At his death, when Apple was one of the largest companies in the United States, its entire product line would fit on an average dining room table. He knew that Apple's success was tied to its ability to make a small number of truly great products.
Culture of discipline: Steve drove his team mercilessly to create the culture that he wanted. His team knew his vision and tried hard to implement it.
Technology as accelerators: Although Apple produced wonderful technologly, they never based their own business systems on cutting edge technology. They adopted web-based ordering only long after others had done it. Their best marketing was through their beautiful stores and traditional ads. They used technology, but did not follow fads.
Flywheel effect: As Apple produced one beautiful product after another, the cumulative effect of the other characteristics was clear.
He did everything right except for one thing. Although he was a Level Five leader that cared more for the company than his (quite oversized) ego, he did not prepare Apple for a successor. He did work closely with Tim Cook and hand the company over to him shortly before he died. However there is no cult of Tim Cook. Steve's hand was in everything that Apple did. The iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad could not have been built under anyone else's leadership. It took a CEO who cared passionately about quality and who had an exquisite sense of taste to make these into the masterpieces that they are. Tim Cook has a reputation for someone who gets things done, not for someone who makes great things.
In the conclusion of the biography of Steve Jobs, he is quoted as he talks about the downfall of other great companies. He claimed that companies such as Hewlett Packard fell apart when they were run by salesmen instead of product people. He said that is what happened to Apple in the 1980’s under Scully. Unfortunately, it seems that he has left Apple is just that type of hands. Bill Gates was quoted as saying that only Steve Jobs could have built a company that offered such complete integreation of software and hardware. When Steve was asked to name another company that so successfully offered the same level of complete integration, he couldn't come up with one.
Without a Steve Jobs to set the tone and vision, how could Apple continue to innovate so beautifully?After the last of Steve's products make it to market, will Apple be able to come up with a worthy sucessor to the iMac-Ipod-Iphone-Ipad family?
What do you think? Is it time to buy or sell Apple stock?