Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal (and everyone else) reported that Steve Jobs has resigned from his role as Chief Executive Officer at Apple Inc. The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cook, will take over the CEO office while Jobs heads up the board as Chairman. Day-to-day, little is likely to change following this shake-up. Mr. Jobs has been ill for some time, admirably navigating a prolonged battle with cancer. Mr. Cook has been at the forefront of the company’s executive team during several previous periods when Jobs took a health-related leave of absence. Moreover, the role of Chairman is not a small one; Mr. Jobs will still be a very powerful force behind Apple’s trajectory.
However, many tech pundits, stockholders and Apple fan-boys and -girls the world over are lamenting Mr. Jobs’ decision as the end of an era. His renown as a product design guru with an unmerciful laser-focus on hiring only the best and the brightest is arguably unmatched in the tech sector, or any sector for that matter. Yes, Apple has had failures (Do any of you use Ping? Anyone?), but its core business of designing elegant software and hardware to solve problems we didn’t even know we had remains as strong as ever. Many of their product iterations are on an annual cycle, virtually guaranteeing those with the devotion and credit scores to buy their products a new version to lust after every year.
“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”
—Jobs, in his resignation letter to Apple’s board
I’m not convinced that product power will diminish due to this change. It’s unfortunate that there are two requirements for a move like this: a strong roadmap of continued innovation on Apple’s part, and a strong sense on Mr. Jobs’ part that to step down now is better than to risk dying before an official hand-off. The real story, then, is that Steve Jobs, who has been sick for a long time, feels that he is no longer well enough to stand at the helm of his company.
That is disheartening, and we join lots of folks in wishing him the best in his continuing health struggles. Perhaps he resigned at the board’s behest, as a way to calm fears that Apple lacked a clear succession plan. It’s more likely that Jobs is confident that his vision and leadership have equipped Apple with a momentum sufficient to go on without his day-to-day involvement. The company faces increasing threats from competitors on multiple fronts, including behemoths Google and Amazon.
But Apple’s brand is established. Its supply lines are robust and locked-in at very competitive high-volume pricing. And, perhaps most importantly, it stands out as an organization that ships products the day it announces them. This is in stark contrast to the habit of announcing and delaying, an all-too-common tactic in a market often dominated more by bluster than tangible innovation.
Yesterday’s announcement was in keeping with that tradition; Jobs didn’t announce that he would soon resign. He just resigned. It was his way of practicing what he preaches: announce and deliver. We can all expect Apple to keep pushing the envelope under Mr. Cook’s direction as CEO. But don’t expect the new Chairman to take a back seat altogether. After all, Steve Jobs’ greatest innovation isn’t a tangible product at all, it’s sound leadership.
Image by Flickr user davidgsteadman.