On Steve Jobs and decoupling the man from the business

Last January 5 Steve Jobs posted a letter on Apple’s site stating that he had a “hormonal imbalance” that caused him lose of weight. The guy is a genius, let’s face it (being a Pixar addict as I am, I owe him my only hours and hours of amazement in front of a non-computer related screen). He conquered pancreatic cancer back in 2004, or seemed to have done so.

Back in December Fortune magazine run an article on Apple’s life after Jobs (Apple 2.0, 20.12.2008). Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, came as the leader of the pack. As a matter of fact, he had taken over the reins for a short while and he has taken them over again.

But this is not a post about technology wars, counterculture and fanatics (I realise that design and a finely tuned marketing machine are in the back of Apple’s success, so why fall for that?), this is a post about the “life after itself”.

As much a visionary entrepreneur as Steve Jobs can be, a 6% drop in the stock price just because of leadership uncertainty gives too much value to the man, and too little to the operations, product and brand. No offense, Mr Jobs, but Microsoft was there with or without Bill Gates.

I wanted to start the post talking about brand built around individuals and how they risk to fail once the name-brand passes away or retires (if they can, since most of the time must be victims of their own success). If, for instance, successful designers don’t gradually detach the XYZ brand from themselves, the company will suffer or even disappear when he is not there anymore.

Gianni Versace and his homonymous brand would be a good example, is YSL going to be next after Yves died last June? What is going to happen when Mr Armani passes away?

To some extent, fashion is an art, and the head designer, the main artists, once he is gone, he is gone. But I am just surprised that in the 21st century, mammoth companies with proven success can tumble when their idolised leaders quit or depart. We saw what happened with Dell after Michael Dell retired. He had to come back to clean up the house.

But, see, this reminds me of the classroom where kiddos stay calm and silent while the teacher is in the room. You take his/her presence out of the equation, and Mrs Mayhem walks in.

I guess it is inherently human to skive and the boss is not looking. I guess we all are irresponsible children who need to be overseen 24/7.

It is not that the Steve Jobs (Apple), Philip Knight (Nike) and Michael Dell’s (Dell) of this world are not worth 6-10% of the value of the successful companies they built on the back of their ideas, leadership and vision, is just that we just don’t trust our fellow citizens. We have all been in the class before, we have all taken the Hypocritical oath.



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