Has Steve Jobs Chosen His Replacement?

Ever since his very secretive battle with Pancreatic Cancer in 2003-2004, Steve Jobs’ health is consistently under a microscope. Every time Jobs coughs on stage the news media goes crazy with rumors that he might be ill.

Many believe the charismatic leader, who saved Apple from extinction in the 90’s, cannot be replaced. Investors seem to agree. When a hoax news story was posted on a CNN iReport that Steve Jobs had a heart attack, Apple stock fell sharply until it was reported that the story was just a hoax.

Tom Reestman recently argued that Apple would be just fine without Jobs, noting that he has put together a “a crack management team that is executing almost flawlessly.” I agree that Apple’s current senior management team has the experience and creativity to continue producing successful products. But while Apple’s day to day operations would likely run relatively smoothly, their share price would plummet due to speculation and fear.

Some have suggested that Steve Jobs and Apple should name his replacement, much in the way that Bill Gates tapped Ray Ozzie as he planned retirement. Reestman notes that Phil Schiller and Scott Forestall have often assisted Steve Jobs in giving keynotes, but lack the same charisma as Jobs. It has also been suggested that Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior VP of Industrial Design, but Ive has traditionally shyed away from the spotlight. He is notoriously private, and some say that even Apple doesn’t know his true birthdate.

It wasn’t until Apple’s recent Special Event that I realized Steve Jobs had already seemingly chosen Ive as his replacement. Jony Ive (Apple profile) was invited on stage to talk to the audience about the manufacturing process and simplification of the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models, and is the star of a new video detailing the manufacturing process.

Jony Ive is already a star at Apple, even if few outisde Cupertino know his name. He’s responsible for designing all of Apple’s flagship products, including the iMac, iPod, MacBook Pro (both models) and the iPhone. Could his recent move to the spotlight be a foreshadowing of things to come?

Few companies’ success is so closely tied to a single leader (whether falsely or not) as Apple. Microsoft didn’t so much as skip a beat after Bill Gates announced retirement. Even though the possibility of Steve Jobs’ retirement is minuscule, Apple’s responsibility is to its shareholders. Steve’s health (and health rumors) are affecting Apple’s share price, and a succession plan might ease that tension.

Does the charismatic Brit have what it takes to replace the iconic Jobs? I’m not sure, but I applaud Apple for taking a step in the right direction. I don’t think anyone can replace Jobs, but I personally feel that Jony Ive is a natural successor to Steve. I certainly hope “The Steve” stays at the helm for another 20 years or more, but it’s nice to know the company will be in good hands no matter what happens.

I look forward to seeing many more Steve & Jony duos in the keynotes to come.