What does Steve Jobs’ announcement mean for Apple?
Clearly, his health issues are going to affect things. The man has been fundamental to Apple’s rise from near-death in 1998. iTunes, iPods, iPhones, and iPads have revolutionized consumer electronics. In these products Steve Jobs seemed envision a consumer need and fill it before we even knew that we had it. He didn’t invent them, but he was able to see small markets and understand what it would take to make them big businesses.
He’s been central to most design issues, overseeing everything from product weight to screen resolution. Many attribute the iPad’s incompatibility with Java to a personal animus Jobs had for Scott McNealy. Now the market will see if Apple is able to apply this magic to other areas like TVs or business computing.
But Apple’s genius isn’t just design. They’ve made operational excellence so ordinary that investors have come to expect flawless supply chain management, cash-cycle conversion, and working capital management. That’s been the domain of Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook. He’ll be in charge during Jobs’ absence.
Companies haven’t always been successful transitioning away from a charismatic, visionary CEO. Wal-mart did in 1988 when went outside the Walton family to promote David Glass from within. Home Depot wasn’t so lucky in 2000 when they hired a former GE executive who wasn’t cut out for mass-retailing.
To all appearances Cook did a fine job the last time Jobs’ was out and Apple’s new product launches are set for the next couple years. But can Apple retain the visionary DNA of Steve Jobs without Jobs at the helm? Only time will tell.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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