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What will it take to carry Apple’s torch after Jobs?

updated 01:20 pm EDT, Sat July 31, 2010

Editorial: Apple still faces tough succession

Recently, critics of Microsoft's decision-makers have called on the company's CEO, Steve Ballmer, to step down and give someone else with fresh ideas the opportunity to set the company's direction. It's a call that has been running through Redmond for years. And just as before, it won't be enough to get Ballmer out of there. Perhaps, then, it's time to turn our attention to Cupertino and Apple.

For years, there has been speculation over CEO Steve Jobs' health. Is he fully capable of running his company? Over the past year, Jobs has made it clear that he is now healthy and he is firmly at the helm. But what will happen when it's time to retire and leave Apple in the hands of someone else?

Whoever takes over Apple, whether it's Tim Cook or someone else, will find themselves in an unenviable position. They will be forced to fill the shoes of arguably the best -- or certainly the most in-control -- CEO the technology industry has ever seen. And everyone, including investors, customers, and other stakeholders will be skeptical of that person's ability to run Apple the way Jobs would have.

Realizing that, there might be some key characteristics that will govern the quality of the next Apple CEO.

For one, Jobs' successor will need strength. When the person takes over Apple, he (for now, a he) will face scrutiny unlike anything we've seen in the tech world. Just about everyone will be wondering if that person will run Apple the way Steve Jobs did or if they will run it into the ground. There won't be any thought of whether or not the new CEO could do a better job by being different, because there's a good chance he can't.

As much as the next CEO might want to be different, they will also need to remember that some things can't (and shouldn't) change at Apple. For one, the next CEO should maintain secrecy at the company, since it has proven to be one of the most successful elements of Apple's marketing strategy. By keeping consumers and the media in the dark, the company is able to build serious hype for its products. Compare that to Dell: it telegraphed its Streak tablet plans in January, half a year before it started shipping. How many are demanding one now? Not many.

But it goes beyond that. The new CEO should maintain Apple's culture of "cool." There's little debating that, in the tech industry, no other company is as concerned about aesthetics as Apple. If the next CEO sinks into the trap of delivering cheaper products that merely get the job done, rather than push the envelope, trouble will ensue.

And simply speaking, it will take a lot more for the next CEO to carry that company's torch than if he took over another company. Apple has a pedigree unlike any other firm in the tech space. And while other companies, like RIM, Microsoft, and even Google, are capable of running with just about any capable CEO at the helm, Apple isn't. It's a special company that delivers special products. And it takes a person with a special vision to get the job done. The candidate doesn't need to be as charismatic, but he certainly has to care about more than just earnings per share or enterprise-level contracts.

The next Apple CEO is walking around somewhere in this world. He might even be primed for an entrance relatively soon. Little does that person know what awaits them, and what kind of challenges he will face as he tries to bring his own individuality to the most recognizable company in the tech business. In some ways, I feel sorry for him already.

By Don Reisinger

by MacNN Staff



  1. 64stang06

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Too bad...

    Too bad we can't put Jobs' head in a jar and let him run Apple that way.

  1. JuanGuapo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Tim Cook

    I think that's been the prediction for years now.

    Jobs is far more iconic than any other CEO in Silicon Valley so I do sort of pity his replacement, they will constantly be compared and contrasted to Jobs on every single thing they do.

    In the case of Micro$oft, no-one really really seemed to care or notice when Gates stepped down and Ballmer took over--it was business as usual, it was noted in the press, and everyone moved on. When Jobs steps down, I fear there will be a brain drain at Apple--people who work on various projects might be tempted to leave for prospects elsewhere.

    I hope that Cook can keep the energy flowing at Apple.

  1. aardman

    Joined: Dec 1969


    comment title

    Hardest CEOs to replace: 1. Jobs at Apple. 2. Buffet at Berkshire-Hathaway.

    Easiest: Ballmer at MS.

    I didn't say the new CEO's job will be hard or easy. I'm saying finding a replacement is.

  1. jfgilbert

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It's not just Apple

    While Steve Jobs is the best known and given the most credit for Apple's success, succession will also be a problem for Larry Ellison, John Chambers, and few others. Most very successful tech companies did not do very well when the original CEO/founder left, as we saw with Microsoft, HP, Tandem, Dell, and many others. Intel may be the exception.
    I think that the original CEOs have a huge emotional investment in the company, and are typically financially secure. That allows them to put the long term success of the company ahead of short term gains. When the board brings in the "mercenary" CEOs, the ones who care mostly about their stock options and their severance package, that's when the company will start its way down.
    On the bright side, it makes room for the next big thing. Rather than trying to guess who will someday replace Jobs at Apple, let's try and guess who will replace Apple in the customers' hearts and minds.

  1. SockRolid

    Joined: Dec 1969


    From within Apple - probably Cook

    "The next Apple CEO is walking around somewhere in this world."

    I think the next Apple CEO is walking around somewhere on the Apple campus. He/she has to be promoted from within Apple, to ensure continuity of management style and of long-term strategy. And so far the go-to guy when Steve hasn't been healthy has been Tim Cook. So I think it's eventually going to be Cook.

  1. Eldernorm

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Here we go again.....

    "Perhaps, then, it’s time to turn our attention to Cupertino and Apple."

    What, would bringing in a total idiot make everyone happier..??? It seems that many hate Apple cause they do things that others are unwilling to do. If Apple had a do nothing CEO, would everyone be happier???

    Sorry, I have to believe there are a bunch of trolls out there (paid and otherwise) that only want negative things for Apple. Not to help us but just to help improve the lots of the companies that they work for. Just look at Apple stock. You can see it being manipulated to bounce from highs to lows.....

    You just know someone is making big money on that. Could you do that with Microsoft stock???? NO way. Who cares what Microsoft is doing??? They say they are working on things for years then let us know its all in the trash.....??? or maybe it never was... Hard to bounce company stock under those conditions.

    Just ranting on a Sat.


  1. Bobfozz

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Once again Reisinger is an idiot

    This guy repeatedly "thinks" he is doing the rest of us a favor by raising questions or offering his opinions. My God, Jobs is in his 50s, he's certainly not over the hill. There is plenty of proof of that. If Reisinger would retire, along with John Dvorak, we'd all be better off by not seeing their inanities anywhere (hopefully). This guy "writes" (really?) for blog consumption and hits, not because he has anything worthwhile to say. Let's throw Enderle under the bus too. Do these 3 nuts talk to each other? Why don't they spend their time lamenting whatever the Microsoft side is doing? They don't really like them any better. I was reading the book on Jobs tonight, iCon, and at least that guy can write.

    One of the guys above brought up the topic of "secrecy" which in Jobs' hands works like genius. Now if we could get Enderle, Dvorak, and Reisinger to go secret on us, everyone would be happy.

  1. dimmer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Why not?

    Scully isn't that busy these days. You know, since the X-Files got cancelled and so on.

    Cook is a great operations guy, but he's not really up there in the "vision" stakes (IMHO). And he doesn't give good keynote (and he's as old as Steve, so...)

    Greg Joswiak would be my pick: young, bright, got the vision thing, great talker, smart thinker, looks good on stage, knows what Apple's overall goals are, can motivate people. He's the dark horse maybe, but he'd be able to pull it off.

    All of that said, Steve isn't going anywhere anytime soon, so it's kinda a moot point.

  1. coffeetime

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple is here to stay

    Apple is here to stay no matter what circumstances. During the darkest time of Apple, I was still using Mac and the same with many other design Agencies. MS will be the same way despite of their stock performance. The part I fear the most for Apple is when they starts licensing their OS again in a desperate attempt (let's say after Steve Jobs is gone), this will cause low end Mac hardware appears and allow oversea virus programmers to afford it and frequently spreading virus on the Mac world wide.

  1. CmdrGampu

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Steve's plans

    He's got half the company working on a project to have his consciousness transferred to a computer, with Ray Kurzweil as an adviser.

    And his orders are to have his body cryogenically frozen and placed next to Uncle Walt when he dies. (Assuming you believe Disney did that.)

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