I’m one of those in the lonely camp that doesn’t believe Jobs is Apple and Apple is Jobs. Or that when he disengages from Apple the wheels must necessarily fall off.
Jobs bought Pixar in 1986, and while he wasn’t nearly as closely involved with it as he has been at Apple, he assembled a team that helped the company thrive even after it was sold to Disney two years back. Since then, Pixar delivered the Oscar winning “Ratatouille” as well as “Wall-E” (Nos. 144 and 34, respectively, on IMDB’s list).
If Jobs hasn’t done the same at Apple, he’s failed at one of the key tasks of a great CEO. I don’t think that’s his style. Yet this week, the media once again turned the spotlight onto Jobs’ health after the company said he won’t appear at MacWorld, that Apple is essentially snuffing what has become a tedious knockoff of a Galaxy Quest convention. Any other company, and it would have ended at the headline.
But Apple isn’t any other company. It’s Apple. Therefore Jobs must be dying. Therefore the stock loses $6.6 billion in two hours.
One day we’ll all look back on this and shake our heads. Rarely has so much attention been paid to the health of an individual who was not the head of state or a religion. What if Jobs is fine, and just wanted no part of the obscene gadget fetishism, which tech conferences in general have become, when millions were losing their jobs and homes? Isn’t that kind of the opposite of dying?
The voluble world of Apple-gazers has been cleft between the virulent fanatics and the desperate naysayers (which the fanatics have in good part created). All this drama overlooks two boring things: a) Apple is a company, and b) Steve Jobs is a businessman.
Apple doesn’t need Macworld anymore. It did for years, when Jobs would step out like Gandalf and save our butts from the ill forces of Mordor. Now Apple rules online music, and Mordor — read Microsoft — is greatly weakened.
Apple has blossomed into a global, mainstream brand, and the fanatics who helped get it there are suddenly less useful. Which brings us to point b.
Until now, Steve Jobs never showed discomfort with the mystique, the legend, the icon that he had become as the man who created and later saved Apple. He totally dug it, but he dug it totally as a businessman. His fan base grew passionate, grew vocal and then — in late 2008 — grew outmoded. Apple simply didn’t need them anymore. It could expand on its own powers.
Besides, this whole mystique thing was starting to backfire. The idea that Jobs and Jobs alone could keep Apple successful is kind of demeaning to the other 32,000 employees there. If Apple did suffer after Jobs’ departure, many of the most talented of those people would found startups, some of which would eventually accomplish insanely great things like Apple has.
Beyond Apple’s stunning success this decade, the success of those new startups would be the ultimate compliment to Steve Jobs’ skills as a corporate leader.