One Sunday in 2008 Vic Gundotra, a senior executive at Google, checked his phone messages after leaving a church service with the family. There was a message from Steve Jobs, co-founder and chief executive of technology giant Apple. Gundotra called him back at home. The two men had regular weekday contact, but what was so important on a Sunday morning?
“So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I’ve already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow,” said Jobs “I’ve been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I’m not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn’t have the right yellow gradient...”
Gundotra, who is in charge of mobile phone applications for Google, looks back now and says on his blog: “It was a lesson I’ll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.” The visionary who picked Apple up off the floor when he returned to the business in 1997, has inspired many others as a charismatic leader and innovator who has always seemed to know what the consumer wants before they are even conscious of wanting it.
No-one is surprised that Steve Jobs has announced his resignation as CEO; he has had several bouts of extended sick leave while dealing with cancer treatment and its aftermath. Each time he left his able substitute, chief operating officer Tim Cook in charge, and during the boss’s most recent absence the share price climbed to $400, making Apple the world’s most valuable company.
And yet the news was still a shock to many, possibly because Jobs has a messianic quality, and many of his fans see the man and the brand as one. He turned a sick business into the undisputed leader in the technology industry, basically because he foresaw that electronic communications were heading out of the office into the living room, the pocket, handbag and street. He embodied business nous, engineering capability, creative management and an instinct for making products that were pared back, stylish, easy to relate to – and oh so cool. As a result, in the last 10 years Apple has managed to stay consistently ahead of the pack, even though its products are the priciest in their category.
Can the loss of such a charismatic leader and his credo of focus and simplicity be anything but a massive body blow to Apple?
Steve Jobs is, after all, the company’s most persuasive salesman, famed for his mesmeric product launches.
The company’s share price did fall five per cent after the resignation announcement – a drop representing $10bn.
Dr Sarah Dixon, Dean of Bradford University’s School of Management, believes it does not spell disaster.
“There are many successful businesses that thrive without a messianic leader in charge – just look at the BPs and Shells of this world. More important is a company’s ability to adapt to change, and Steve Jobs may well have set things up at Apple so that it can survive perfectly well without him.
“Another factor in continuing to thrive is whether creativity has been encouraged throughout the business, and Jobs has been surrounded by a very gifted team of people who are creative in every department. Apple’s success has not been down to one man, although he was the consummate salesman and really believes in his own products.
“Comparing Apple to some struggling organisations, they are in a bad way just now while Apple continues to grow because those other businesses are always looking at the short-term, don’t have time to sit back and think strategically and are too busy reporting on weekly and monthly performance. Jobs will have set up the organisation to give managers the means to implement a vision.”
While Tim Cook is seen as the least risky of the four possible choices that could have replaced Jobs, he is still a top-flight operator and there will be clear a road-map ahead, says Graham Barlow, editor-in-chief of MacFormat, the largest independent magazine on Apple products in the UK.
“Jobs and his brilliant team will have already planned many of the new products we will see in the next few years, and they’ll continue to refresh each of the existing devices each year. The share price will recover when the iPhone 5 is launched in September, and the business will be unharmed because Jobs brought on other people who were talented. But there is, after all, only one Steve Jobs.”