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Has Steve Jobs Chosen His Replacement?

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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.

24 Responses to “Has Steve Jobs Chosen His Replacement?”

  1. @chano I base my confidence in Ive on the fact that he’s behind every single slam-dunk product Apple has produced in the last 10 years. The iMac, iPod and iPhone, as well as some of the most revolutionary designs (in my opinion) such as the Cube.

    As mentioned above, I think Apple is about design and innovation. Whether he becomes CEO or just the public face of Apple after Jobs leaves, I think Ive will be the front man for the company. He will be leading the way with design (as he is now) and presenting it enthusiastically and getting all the Apple fans excited.

    I think there are probably other people who could manage the day to day operations or financial obligations of a CEO. There are already really competent people on the management team such as Tim Cook.

    But, when you think about the charisma and magnetism Steve Jobs has on stage I don’t think Cook can excite the audience like that. Ive can, and I think we’ll be seeing more of him in the next few keynotes.

  2. Jonathan Ivy is the closest to Steve in terms of just getting the essentials of design and what will work in a product and what will not. That is the most crucial thing, and I think a lot of the genius of the iPod and iMac were as much Jonathan Ive as SJ. Others like Phil and Tim know the business and run it well. Guy? That is just wacky. He never had a big role even in the old days.

  3. Dick App;ebaum


    Had to reply to this…

    Guy is one of the few who could guide AAPL… has the abliity/experience/attitude…

    … but not that much younger than SJ.

    More’s the pity!

  4. Ive is not the first person to be called onto the Jobsian stage. Tons of people have been given opportunities to entertain the masses.

    Having said that, Ive’s personality is NOT suited to be numero uno. He’s far too quiet and unassuming.

    There are a ton of good candidates at Apple, to run the mother ship, and most are already on the Executive Team, but all of them are great at their existing jobs.

    The two candidates I do like, one is an insider and one an outsider. Bertrand Serlet, has presented at MWSF, and was with Steve at Next and heads the software group. This is a critically important function, because while Apple sells hardware, it’s the software that differentiates the products. Bertrand has vision and is charismatic.

    The other is no longer with Apple, but was one of the original Evangelists, Guy Kawasaki. Guy has the Apple/Silicon Valley background, and the charisma, and the public-speaking chops to carry off the difficult role of leadership.

  5. I think your proposal of Ive is a little simplistic. What do you base your confidence on?
    None of us knows what is in Jobs’ mind on this matter. Ive is a fine designer, but there are many fine designers in the world.
    Tim Cook will have had broader exposure to a stewardship role, but is that adequate prep for replacing Jobs? Jobs is not a designer on paper, but he is a visionary in a limited sense, one who looks at things and sees a better solution.
    As a former pro accountant, I say Oppenheimer doesn’t really fit the role.
    When the time comes, Jobs’ replacement will have to have at least a few of his qualities; such as being a continuous rejector of things as they are in favour of what they could be; an agitated innovator who is thinking about the next big thing even as he oversees the completion of the current new product. That is not easy. It needs the skills of a pragmatic dreamer, an agitator for better rather than for keeping the same old, same old; a savvy risk taker who has made some major mistakes and learned the necessary lessons.
    This is a complex and difficult specification. The best solution?
    Jobs should be assembling a team to carry out the process aspect of his skill sets. This includes people like Ive on design. But he also needs one special other, someone with the dangerous visions of an Alan Kay, the manic drive for performance of Jobs himself, an annoyingly high level of dissatisfaction with less than perfect ideas and a great deal of that innate marketing sense that is Jobs’ most surprising gift – to somehow understand the inner wants of huge numbers of people he has never met – a feel for the pulse of the market, if you will.
    That is the essence of the undefinable ‘Jobs factor’ imo. Not an easy undertaking to find someone with those qualities. And the right candidate would likely raise Jobs’ hackles – like seeing himself as he was 10 or 20 years ago.

  6. I feel it has been obvious for years that Ive was the next in line. He is as important to Apple as Jobs is. Without his mastermind design, Apple would never have transformed the digital music and computer world (and later the mobile market) the way it did. Yes, Jobs brought it back from the dead but Ive is the one that has kept it alive. He is very private but then again… so is Jobs. And his recent presentations and video performance gives the impression that he is practicing and preparing for when he takes over. I don’t think it is even appropriate to consider anyone else as a possible replacement for Jobs.

  7. gotta be Cook. Ive can still handle the vision thing, but somebody with a sound grip on the books is critical. Look for a bigger role in future for Ron Johnson, too – certainly the mastermind of Apple Retail should have a seat up front in any future course after Steve…

  8. The value of a CEO is too frequently understated. Its much more than the public persona… its how he works the board, gets the senior execs to implement the vision, and of course his public stewardship of the company. I think to many people look at others that are technically qualified and assume they can do his job. Ivy is deeply private and that will probably keep him from being successful as the captain of a very public company.

    Steve Jobs does so many things that we never see and that is what really makes him the man. Will the other execs follow Ivy, Schiller, or Forestall? Who knows, but the next Apple CEO will probably fall well short of Steve’s mark, in my opinion.

    The other thing to remember is the difference between Gates and Jobs. Gates retired and Jobs was reportedly dying… that’s a huge difference. Retirement is safe and planned, death is unexpected and dangerous. If Steve lives to retire he’ll probably see a similarly mild handover, but if he dies or becomes terminal whatever is done to fill the gap will be assumed to be risky.

  9. I was watching the video when a friend stopped by, I just explained it would be over in a few minutes. He remarked that every single exec was in black, but tim cook was as well. If any company depends too much on one guy, and he could be hit by a bus ( to quote steve) it’s very reasonable to make sure each VP grooms successor, and a COO takes all daily duties off steve.
    It was over 5 years ago steve explained he was very happy with all of the people, if he did get hit by a bus, apple would be alright. In contrast to last time, when a soda pop salesman took over, who could sell kids sugar water, but couldn’t see the “next big thing”. Ran Apple into the dirt….
    Remember Gil Amelio? In HIS book, he thinks he was set up by steve…. I asked him what to do, and he’d say “get on with the next big thing”, but he never told me what that was…. ( A CEO who doesn’t know should resign )

    I’m sure steve wants Apple 100%, to thrive….

    IMHO, It’s just like the org chart. Yes Ive is very artistic, and detail oriented…. he loves hardware design, and that is part of a steve. Then Phil will sell anything, which is his job, but Steve introduced Mac OS 8.5 as “Only $99, it’s like getting a brand new Mac for under $100”. ( like some used car salesman… Then we have Fred’s protege as CFO (whatever the deal was with options – he was very good at keeping finances pouring in) So, I suppose ideally, you don’t want any one person to BE the company, and in many ways, they all make up different facets, and I think we Mac Users also think it’s something worth having around….. as most of the 20K employees feel.

    Apple from 85-96 was a lot like President Bush, I wouldn’t want to go through that again!

  10. Daniel P

    “Steve Jobs had already seemingly chosen Ive as his replacement”

    Ive is Job’s replacement because he was on stage? So what about Cook, Schiller or Forestall? Your logic is daft.

  11. The main reason people are scared of loosing Jobs is that last time he was fired from Apple, the company declined. However… he was fired. If he left with his vision and team in place, it could be a very different story. Its the difference between a company that went against him and that goes with him.

    I doubt Ive would be the person or be even interested in that role – he’s a designer, a superb one, and I’m sure he would like to continue at what is is excellent at.

  12. My personal pick would be Tim Cook. Jony doesn’t like to share the limelight as we typically see during these Apple events. He’s had a very secretive existence at Apple, including lots of extra stock options thrown his way to keep him at Apple. He’s definitely talented, but is super humble and modest and doesn’t like to take the stage often at all. What does everyone else think?

  13. Who leads the company and who talks at the keynotes are two different things. Jonathan Ive has more charisma and fits better at keynotes, but I doubt anyone is better than Tim Cook at leading the company (next to Steve).
    So what are we discussing?

  14. Don’t forget that Tim Cook (my personal pick) was also called on stage at the Apple event.

    Moreover, Cook’s talk was about the state of the Mac — the kind of thing a CEO is expected to discuss — whereas Jony’s talk was about the tech details of the new manufacturing technique that put half the crowd (though not me) to sleep.