Officially, the word at the Apple shareholders meeting is that Steve Jobs will return at the end of his medical leave of absence. But what happens if he doesn’t?
Just like a few months ago when Jobs skipped the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco this year, then shortly thereafter took this medical leave, his failure to attend the shareholders meeting may be an omen that he is unlikely to return to his position at Apple in four months time. The nagging question behind the current issue is what happens with Apple if Steve Jobs does not come back?
There is almost endless speculation on this subject, some of the most thoughtful of it in a PCWorld column by David Coursey. Coursey concludes that Apple without Jobs will no longer be the Apple we have come to know and love. He credits Jobs with single-handedly carrying Apple to it’s current level of success by embracing Intel for the Mac and Windows for the iTunes (and thus the iPod). Jobs is given credit in the column for the successes that followed the move to a Unix-basedÂ operating system. He calls Jobs, not Apple, the phenomenon and gives him credit for his iron control that has made Apple everything it is today.
While it is true that Jobs has had a significant influence on Apple’s course during his current tenure at Apple, he almost certainly is not the whole story. There are a lot of excellent, intelligent people in Cupertino. They were not sitting idly by while Steve Jobs was alone at the oars of the Apple longboat. It makes no sense to ignore all of the contribution made by all the others at Apple.
And even if Jobs were single-handedly responsible for all of Apple’s successes over the last ten years, is there any guarantee that he would be the right man for the next ten years? I understand that we live in the era of the idol and the rock star. It is the common wisdom to give the credit (or the blame) to just one person. Laud the quarterback, ignore the tackle. That wisdom may be common, but it is not wise. It is complete teams, not individuals, that make companies work.
It is hard not to wish Steve Jobs the best, and to hope that he returns to the helm of Apple right on schedule, there to enjoy a long and healthy reign. But history is full of stories of successful men building things that were later made better by their successors. England, for one example, and the United States for another. The companies that have gone down this road are too numerous to mention. Steve Jobs may be a great CEO, but he did not do it all by himself.