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Myth vs. Reality

Gordon Kelly


What Will Apple Do Without Steve Jobs?

Let's get one thing straight: we're not here to speculate on Steve Jobs' health. We're not qualified to do so and quite frankly we'll leave that to others – we find the whole practice somewhat distasteful. What we are qualified to talk about, however, is Apple as a company both with and without its enigmatic leader. So the question remains: 'What Will Apple Do Without Steve Jobs?'

On Monday Jobs announced he was taking his third medical leave of absence in seven years. It follows a 2004 break for treatment of a treatable form of pancreatic cancer called Islet cell carcinoma and a six month absence in 2009 which saw Jobs undergo a liver transplant. Jobs put no timeline on a return to Apple saying only that he has "great confidence that Tim {Cook} and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011." A statement which suggests, despite continuing as CEO and being "involved in major strategic decisions", his absence this time will be lengthy. We wish him all the best for a successful, long term recovery.

The problems facing Apple without Jobs' day-to-day involvement, however, are massive. Many sites have speculated about the ability of the team – centred around Tim Cook (COO), Jonathan Ive (industrial design), Peter Oppenheimer (CFO) and Bob Mansfield (Mac & iPhone hardware engineering) {pictured below, left to right} – to run the company in his absence. This is to be expected yet whatever their merits their biggest battle is with market perception because Apple has yet to prove it can prosper without its famous co-founder at the helm.

This belief is founded upon three significant generalisations. Firstly that Apple was a wildly successful company until Jobs' was ousted in 1985, following a clash with then Apple CEO John Sculley. Secondly that Jobs saved the company on his return in 1997, and thirdly that everything Jobs touches turns to gold. Of these only the second is largely true. Apple was on a significant downward spiral during the 12 years Jobs was away from Apple. It tried and failed to revive Mac OS and made desperate, yet unsuccessful attempts to diversify. Within 12 months of rejoining Apple Jobs had overseen the release of the iMac (designed by a newly promoted Jonathan Ive). Two years later Apple would release Mac OS X and unveil the first iPod.

Despite this Jobs isn't infallible. Apple was already experiencing an industry-wide sales slump in 1984 which exacerbated his fall-out with Scully and NeXT, the company Jobs formed upon leaving Apple, saw its computer line fail completely. Meanwhile the non-Jobs years at Apple were at least wildly creative seeing the introduction of the PowerBook, the father of the modern laptop, and the brave but ill-fated Newton platform – seen by many as the inspiration behind the iPad. In fact Apple was a vastly larger company on Jobs' return than it had been when he left.

Then again, why let facts get in the way of a reality distortion field.

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