He was the corporate world’s perfect eccentric geek – brilliant in his capacity to grasp changing consumer needs and trends and place innovative products that best suited those needs in their hands.
Computerworld’s wunderkind almost single handedly transformed the company he founded into a global powerhouse with unimaginable cult status for each of its products.
Steve Jobs was no ordinary CEO running an ordinary company. He was one of those people who came along and did his thing and then left a legacy some of us still find hard to comprehend.
Yet, in a world without the black turtleneck and jeans clad bespectacled figure addressing every Apple convention, one wonders – has the world’s most valuable company lost its sparkle when it lost the man who founded it… has it also lost the streak of innovation and creativity that drove it to launch products unseen before… is it going to be tough to replicate what Jobs did… has the innovation gone out of the window with the eccentricity?
Innovator vs. administrator
Everybody on Silicon Valley and beyond it has had an opinion on El Jobso. He was mean in some ways, was not a very nice person to get along with at times, was fanatical in certain respects and did not give much to charity in contrast with his brother-in-business Bill Gates.
But he was the brilliant genius who gave leadership to Apple and its portfolio of products. He cultivated an image that set its sail on Apple’s products.
From iPhone to iPad, iPod and the MacBook, each had its unmistakably stamp of Steve Jobs genius. When you read his biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacsson, you glance though the pages, where it is described in detail how obsessed Jobs was with achieving a perfect aluminum finish for his products; your eyes immediately catch the refined, Zen finish on the iPhone, iPad and the Mac.
There was a method to his madness – he defined the products he developed. But can the same be said of Tim Cook who is now running the Apple ship?
Undoubtedly, Tim Cook made a great CEO – he was the dependable, quiet and sturdy deputy to a genius who was sometimes pre-occupied with only the R&D aspects of a product.
They made a great team at the time. But now that Jobs is no more and Tim Cook is going to be the icon at Apple, Apple fans are left wondering whether things will still be perceived as they were before.
The roles have been defined – Steve Jobs was the innovator and Tim Cook was the administrator. Cook ran Apple efficiently but was not involved in the process of developing products. That was not his specialization.
Throughout the years, there have been personalities who were so strongly tied to the products they developed that one without the other could not eventually be expected to keep it going. In such cases, it has often been difficult to tell the company apart from the individual.
Henry Ford symbolized not only the car he introduced but also the entire automobile industry at the time.
Max Factor pioneered cosmetics in the retail market, opening the door for unique products to go beyond the theatre, the only place where cosmetics had been used until then.
The difference as analysts see between Gates and Jobs, two of computer world’s biggest legacies, is that Gates did not work so much on interspersing his image with that of Microsoft in a way that not many could tell where Microsoft began and Gates ended.
Microsoft was not seen or perceived by loyal fans queuing up outside showrooms to get their hands on each new product, as trendy or happening. It was more industrial than that.
The software wasn’t really standalone – it came loaded with your computer. There was nothing trendy or innovative about it running on your computer – you almost took it for granted.
As the Jobs legacy has shown, there are ups and downs in meshing a founder’s image so closely with that of a company. Sooner or later, the two are forced to part and then the future becomes a question mark.
Tim Cook, as they say, makes a fine CEO and is more than capable of running Apple successfully in the years to come but who will fill the shoes Jobs left behind? Can they be filled at all? Or will Apple live on the legacy of the man, the same way Disney has done? These are questions that will only have answers as time rolls by.
Apple has entered the phase without the charisma of Steve Jobs to fall back on and so far, Cook has done exceptionally well. It still remains the world’s most valuable and hip brand.
Will the post-Jobs era be a different phase, an era where Apple has not gone before but has had to go now in order to stay fighting fit in a competitive world where every move is watched and analyzed by competitors?
Great products outlive their founders. Apple has been no exception. It has great products to fall back on and there are newer versions to be developed, better and more efficient models.
As long as the winning streak is there, Apple will have the clout. And perhaps it needs to be seen as transforming into the company that Jobs founded, relying on the bequest he left behind yet able to enter a dynamic phase that no longer needs its founder to fall back on.
(Nayomini, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional can be contacted at [email protected])
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