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Today the world mourns the loss of jobs — Steve Jobs, that is.
The legendary maverick and Apple co-founder stepped down Wednesday as CEO of what’s widely considered one of the most avant-garde enterprises in the world. Though a reason hasn’t been explicitly cited for his “[inability to] meet his duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO” — as Jobs noted in his resignation letter — many believe health was the culprit.
In fact, the diagnosis of a rare form of pancreatic cancer forced Jobs to take more than one medical leave of absence over the years. In what turned out to be a bittersweet blessing in disguise, these periods enabled COO Tim Cook to step up, albeit temporarily, and run the company’s day-to-day operations while his boss recuperated. Not only that, but it also provided Apple’s board the much-needed opportunity to watch Cook prove his managerial chops each time by keeping the ship sailing on course and full speed ahead. An Apple board member has even been quoted in The Economist as praising Cook’s “remarkable talent and sound judgment in everything he does.”
Pondering Leadership and Succession Planning
It doesn’t take a sleuth to deduce where the company might turn for leadership now that Jobs announced his exit. In his resignation letter released to the board and the media Wednesday, Silicon Valley’s maestro stated, “As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.”
But how much of an impact will this switch have on Apple as a brand?
I mean, the mere mention of Jobs conjures up the iconic image of the former CEO looking spiffy in his trademark black turtleneck with the company logo as a backdrop. I hadn’t even seen a picture of Cook until this morning. But will this apparent branding disconnect — the dissociation of a giant enterprise and its renowned leader, much like Bill Gates and Microsoft — cause sales and stocks to plummet in the long term?
As a consumer, does it matter that I know almost nothing about Cook? Granted, I don’t speak on behalf of Apple geeks everywhere, but that won’t stop me from waiting with bated breath to purchase the iPhone 5 or the iPad 3.
Jobs may have resuscitated the company which — hard as it is to believe — was once in dire straits, but he certainly shares credit with other members of Apple’s upper echelon for the success of its product line.
A friend, who recently put all her eggs in the Apple stock basket, wasn’t sure how to react to the news. There’s always been a cloud of mystery shrouding the company — and that extended to its failure to divulge concrete succession plans to the public.
Is the seemingly untimely change in leadership and infamous secrecy around critical information about the company enough to cause a sizable dent in the company’s stock? Despite tumbling last evening, Apple stocks have slowly been inching back upward this morning.
Forbes today quoted C. Montevirgen, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor’s who follows Apple, as saying, “Although we value Steve Jobs’ vision and strategy, we believe that he has created a superior organization backed by talented engineers and managers who can execute product roadmaps and deliver growth.” The expert nonetheless estimates earnings will increase more than 60 percent this year and 20 percent next year.
Isn’t it ultimately the mark of a great leader to not only leave a legacy but also successfully pass the baton to a successor?
Reuters quotes Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research, as saying: “The quality of a good leader is being able to put together a team around you. Steve doesn’t design every aspect of these products the way the mythology says he does. There are guys who run the floor sales at Apple retailers that could go out and be head marketers at this company. They’ve done a great job of imprinting Steve’s DNA across the organization and they will continue to innovate and take share.”
Not every company will have the luxury of test driving its successor like Apple did, but having solid parameters around the kind of leadership needed to thrive is essential.
As talent managers, you have the power to influence the next generation of leaders. What characteristics and qualities do you look for when building succession plans? Some of the traits required may vary from company to company, but it’s your prerogative to facilitate such discussions. And do you seek to identify and develop the kinds of leader who, renowned as he or she may be, persistently works on building a team to take the organization to greater heights? We may not all be like Steve Jobs, but there’s certainly opportunity to leave an imprint on our organizations for years to come.
Deanna Hartley is a senior editor at Talent Management magazine, and has worked at the publication for more than four years. Prior to that, she earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She has had an array of pieces featured in publications including The Times of Northwest Indiana, Daily Herald-affiliate Beep, The Chicago Defender and Skin Inc. magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.