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