Insights into some AxiCom thinking...
The Apple Question
The news of Steve Jobs stepping down from the CEO position at Apple is desperately sad. For a man who has achieved so much both with Apple and within the industry to be laid low by illness is heartbreaking, and for it to occur while Steve was in the prime of his creative genius is a tragedy for the technology industry and the world. Without his innovation and purity of vision we would still be stuck today using a dodgy derivation of the Nokia 1200 running some archaic Symbian OS.
I only worked with Steve once and that was for the UK launch of NeXT. He was as charismatic as he was mercurical. A hugely entertaining showman but someone who also regarded technology with a near religious fervour. And he did not suffer fools at all, let alone gladly, as some journalists found to their shame.
But I also worked with Apple in Cuppertino back in the early '90s in the days when Jobs was not there. I say not there, but his spirit pervaded the place like Banquo's ghost at Glamis Castle. Engineers were intent in keeping up the "crazy but great" style of software development, but like an orchestra without a conductor they made poor music and disgruntled audiences. These were the days of the Newton and the failure in design and usability that it represented, strange coalitions to try to combat Microsoft and a market share of just 3%.
So is Apple without Steve Jobs destined to repeat its descent into engineering anarchy and technology turmoil? My guessing is that when Nasdaq opens today we will see the stock sharply down as this is exactly what the investment community will forecast.
But my very strong belief is that they are wrong, and wrong for three reasons:
First, this not the Apple of the early 90s where Jobs had first been sidelined and then defenestrated by a board that believed that inspirational founders needed to make way for professional management. Jon Scully, the man they brought in as CEO, seemed intent on eradicating the culture that Jobs and Wozniak had created and this was massively responsible for problems that followed.
This is not the case today. Jobs may be stepping down as CEO, but he is still Chairman and around him is a senior team that he has selected and developed over the past decade and a half. And most importantly they have Tim Cook stepping in as CEO and he has the reputation of being an extremely good operator and leader.
Secondly, the world is a very different place from the putsch in 1985 that forced Jobs to stand down the first time. Then, Apple was facing the onslaught of an industry that had coalesced around Microsoft and was determined to drive global standards that would be to the detriment of, and nearly destroy, Apple.
Apple may face tough competition from Google, but the world is far, far more open in terms of platforms and interoperability that it has even been and this plays directly to the great strength of Apple in innovation.
Third, Apple has created an ecosystem that is the envy of every technology company on the planet. Through iTunes and the AppStore it now reaches and serves communities that rely on Apple. That is not to say that Apple couldn't lose that community but the truth is that they would have to actively disband it or do something so stupid that the community would reject Apple - and I just can't see that happening.
In a way, Jobs' religious zeal for technology has built a worldwide congregation. Like any church it will go through schisms and reformations, and the leadership will change, but the church will survive.
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