The Orange View (on hiatus) Because Apple is great but it isn't perfect


It was grand

Vern didn't just mean being off limits inside the junkyard, or fudging on our folks, or going on a hike up the railroad to Harlow. He meant those things, but it seems to me now it was more and that we all knew it. Everything was there and around us. We knew exactly who we were and exactly where we were going. It was grand.

-Stand By Me

Today marks the end of the Steve Jobs era at Apple, though like most things in life it's never quite so black and white. Jobs' return to Apple in 1997 marked the beginning of one of the greatest success stories in modern day business as he saved the company on the brink of bankruptcy and took it all the way to the edge of being the most valued company in the entire U.S. stock market.

Whether it was developing amazing new products, crafting brilliant ad campaigns, negotiating with Hollywood moguls, attracting the most talented talent or just making the trains run on time, Jobs was a visionary. And he will rightly be remembered as one of the greatest chief executives in the history of capitalism.

But as we acknowledge Jobs' greatness, we should also recognize how great a ride it's been for the rest of us, whether Apple customers, fans, developers, investors, journalists or bloggers. We have been "in the zone" for so long now it has come to seem normal. I couldn't help but think of the narrator's admonition from the great Rob Reiner flick Stand By Me tonight. Everything was there and around us. We knew exactly who we were and where we were going. And it was grand.

And that brings me to my last melancholy thought. When Jack Welch left GE, when Lou Gerstner left IBM, when Bill Gates left Microsoft, there was always a "deep bench" and a brilliant succession plan. Now we hear the same about Apple. It doesn't matter. You cannot replace the Mozart's and the Beethoven's of business. They cannot be replaced.

And so it may be obvious very soon or maybe not for years and years. Apple will not be able to replace Steve Jobs and it will not be the same powerhouse. It might be quite successful but don't bet the house on lightning striking twice.

Posted by Aaron Pressman

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  1. [I’ve cross-posted this reply on my blog, also.]

    There is a certain momentum to Apple’s current brands and products that will propel it through the foreseeable future (and let’s call that 5-7 years for arguments sake).

    And the types of CEOs and companies you use as examples are exactly the same types of companies that Apple is *not* — that they could not pass along a vision and mission is more an indictment of the failure of those CEOs, than it is to any sort of greatness we may have lauded them for when they were building up companies *not* to last . Any close observer of Apple will tell you that Jony Ive is the Mozart whose music is performed masterfully by Jobs. Tim Cook is the operational genius who has revolutionized the company’s supply chain. (The fact that retailing Beethoven Ron Johnson left Apple recently to become CEO of JC Penny indicates that Tim Cook won out any competition there may have been for next CEO.)

    But let’s not be just hypothetical here. Let’s use Steve Jobs as an example of a company CEO who can leave a company built to last, with talented people in place and a clear understanding of what their vision and mission is.

    From 1986-2006, 20 years, Steve Jobs was CEO of Pixar. He was CEO when they were about to go under. And he was CEO 20 years later when he sold the company to Disney for $7+ billion.Then, he wasn’t CEO of Pixar.They’ve somehow managed to continue moving forward during the past five years without him at the helm.

    So will Apple.