As technology companies go, Apple is extraordinary. Few companies feel the wrath of scrutiny with every hiccup or new product that Apple feels, yet few companies have satisfied and happy customers which number into the hundreds of millions. That’s Apple. Despite the public scrutiny little is know about Apple’s internal succession plans. Who’s next in line?
For a company that has a history dating back to the mid-1970s and a mainstay product that is more than 30 years old, Apple has had surprisingly few leaders. And I differentiate leaders from CEOs. Michael Scott was Apple’s first CEO but obviously was not Apple’s first leader. That title belongs to co-founder Steve Jobs.
Apple’s third employee, Mike Markkula became CEO for a few years before Steve Jobs hired John Sculley from Pepsi-Cola. Only Jobs himself held the CEO title longer than Sculley. Michael Spindler held the job for a few years after Apple’s board kicked out Sculley. His tenure was worse than Sculley and he was replaced by Gil Amelio who managed to take Apple to the brink of destruction before buying the ultimate Trojan Horse, Jobs’ NeXT Computer in late 1996. From then on, until Tim Cook took over shortly before Jobs’ death, Apple’s leader and CEO were the same.
Cook’s tenure as Apple’s CEO came in the form of a backup quarterback who took over for an injured star player and not only kept the company afloat, he was also the overseer of Apple’s most profitable and productive years. Love him or hate him, Cook was hand-picked by Jobs to run Apple.
But is Tim Cook Apple’s leader?
Yes. And no. Cook leads the machine; the tens of thousands of employees who work together to put a little of Apple– and Steve Jobs design ethic– into every product. To say that Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs is to say that Fox News is not the BBC. It’s obvious. Cook is different and cook runs the show differently than Jobs; the former a somewhat more typical executive, the latter anything but.
By most accounts the succession that took place before and after Jobs’ death was orderly and expected. Jobs was not an operations expert. Cook was and is, and operationally, Apple is about as efficient as a company with hundreds of millions of customers who generate hundreds of billions in revenue and tens of billions in profits as a company can get.
Tim cook leads Apple in the traditional sense but does he lead the company in a spiritual sense? True, he’s a kinder, gentler more inclusive chief executive than Jobs, but does he have Jobs’ sense of design, sense of art, and full understanding of what makes a slab of electronics personal to the owner?
Most of what we seen in today’s new products have the very design ethic that was shared during Jobs’ reign– by Jonny Ive, the company’s chief designer. Hopefully, some of the essence of Jobs remains in Ive. All of Apple’s recently released new products– from iPhone to MacBook to Watch to iPad– carry the same glittery attraction made famous in the company’s products during Jobs’ years.
What’s next? Rather, who is next? Who is being groomed to run Apple or inspire Apple and guide Apple’s need for a spiritual leader after Tim Cook and Jonny Ive?