Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Apple after Jobs

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at the fifth D: All ...
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at the fifth D: All Things Digital conference (D5) in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
That is question on a lot of tech pundit's mind. I've followed Apple news since the 80s, having started on the Apple ][e. The best way to figure out what Apple could look like is to look how other companies have moved beyond their original founding or influential founders. The story is very much varied.
There is that other company that Jobs have left and worked out ok, Pixar. He believed in having good people around in a company. His hiring of Scully from Pepsi in Apple's early day is an example of that. He refined this belief further in Pixar, where he has a team that has taken it to great successes, stayed hungry and welcome (and look for) change. I remember John Lasseter's comment in the mid-90s on how they at Pixar love the fact that Jobs was getting busy back at Apple. They now effectively controls Disney, with John Lasseter heading Disney Animation Studios. Jobs is the largest single shareholder via Disney's purchase of Pixar. Lesson: making a company great is a team sport.
Jobs has left Apple before.Contrary to popular belief that he was fired, Jobs left on his own will. Jobs wanted control over the direction and results of his vision. The board was worried about how much it would cost. We all know what Apple leadership went through after that. Guy Kawasaki puts it best in the documentary Welcome to Macintosh where he says "everybody wanted to be somebody else". He probably meant each wanted each other's success and tried emulating them. One CEO, Michael Spindler, wanted to sell Apple to Sun or IBM. All that while, I believed that the only way to fix Apple was to bring Steve Jobs back. Not that the Apple faithful didn't dream in those times of his return. All of us was right. Lesson: Apple is an expression of Steve Jobs's vision of looking and creating the future, instead of just looking at the balance sheet.
Another company with iconic founders, Hewlett-Packard, began life in the garage, much like Apple. In fact, there were the original home-garage computer company. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard built it into a mult-billion company. They enshrined their beliefs in management as the "The HP Way". However, I feel that it was largely abandoned after the tech bubble burst in the late 90s and began to lose it's way as a technology leader. It became yet another computer company with many interests, with no distinctive features other than it's corporate maneuverings, sales forecasts and stock price movements. The exception is probably in printing where the brand is strong and products are respected. HP is now at a crossroads, with a CEO clearly looking for a buyer for it's 'low-profit' division, despite what it says otherwise. HP is a company lost not because of itself but it's leaders who have decided to let the numbers do the leading. Their most recent move in looking to sell their PC division is purely financial. And their customers can see right through it. They are worried about their support contracts, their investments in technology and more importantly in the people at HP. The question on their minds are: "Will the HP of tomorrow be the same HP I'm talking to today?" Lesson No 1: Anybody can have a vision and be visionary but the real question is: what is that vision? Lesson No 2: In the pursuit of profits, don't leave your customers behind.
Apple's current management is well suited to continue Steve Jobs' legacies. But soon it will need a new visionary leader. Someone who is committed to the values of Apple and is surrounded by a team willing to follow.
You see, Jobs's deal is that he wants to change the world. He wants to change the world by changing how people feel. He affects how people feel by changing or controlling how they interact with their world, whether their experience is visual or through touch. He believes that by making that experience of interacting with Apple products "revolutionary" and "magical", it will make people feel good and thus positively affects their world and the world in general. He understood that while the computer can do useful things, it is also a useful tool to impress people. Those that are impressed will go and buy the same computers. So, computers need to be useful and impressive. Now that's vision. Making a buck along the way is not bad, too.
Apple will survive after Jobs, it's just not going to be this Apple.
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