Steve Jobs: And here lies the critical link. With the return of Steve Jobs the Apple fan base largely has shifted from being loyal to Apple to being loyal to Steve Jobs. Were he to leave Apple voluntarily there would be a problem; an involuntarily departure could prompt a revolt with significant adverse implications for Apple revenue and profitability. Steve is largely responsible for some of the critical deals surrounding iTunes, Microsoft, and the various carriers all favoring Apple.
Steve is also one of the key parts of the perceived quality assurance process and the belief in his personal touch has a great deal to do with perceived product quality. Finally, Steve is the equivalent of a super Ronald McDonald, in that he has been turned into the physical representation of the company. He has had serious health problems in the relatively recent past, and has reached an age where many in his position choose to retire.
Advice to Apples New CEO
So, much like in the Microsoft piece, Ill conclude with my advice to a new CEO coming in after Steve Jobs left as to where that person should focus.
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The company is so tightly tied to Steve Jobs that the first thing out of my mouth would likely be: unless you can change your name to Steve Jobs and get some really fast plastic surgery youre screwed.
Seriously, while Apple doesnt enjoy the multiple dependencies tied to a troubled product like Microsoft does, they have a different set of more complex problems to deal with. These problems are led by their CEO, who will certainly depart in the next 5 or 10 years (many of his peers, including Bill Gates, are retiring from their respective businesses).
Finding someone to run Apple will be difficult but doable; getting someone to hold the Apple fan base will be much more difficult; and getting the same person to do both may be impossible (otherwise wed have a Steve Jobs clone running another company by now).
The solution may reside with how the public face of Steve Jobs was created in the first place, but I wonder if the same thing will work twice.
Finally, if Time Warner succeeds in their effort to make music universally available, iTunes and iPod/iPhone exposures goes through the roof and either stopping or mitigating that should be a high priority.