Life after Jobs: Why Apple isn't doomed

The greatest fallacy in the story of Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple CEO, the one youll find in endless media reports, is this: In 1985 after Steve Jobs left Apple, the company went on a downhill slide that led it to the brink of bankruptcy. Therefore, the Apple of 2011 is at risk of doing the same.

The factual statements are true, so far as they go. Steve Jobs did leave Apple in the mid-80s, and a succession of Apple CEOs named Sculley and Spindler and Amelio did manage to nearly run Apple into the ground over the next 12 years.

But the flaw in the History Repeats Itself storyline being promoted in some corners as Jobs steps down as CEO is that the Apple of today is nothing like the Apple of 1985.

When Steve Jobs left Apple the first time, I was finishing my freshman year of high school. As a result, I have no insider knowledge of that era. Eight years later, I was covering Apple and Apple rapidly went through three CEOs who made numerous bad decisions that led Apple to the brink of disaster. Steve Jobs, meanwhile, was building a company (Next) that had created an interesting computer operating system that was being used by approximately nobody.

The magic happened when Jobs came back to Apple, so when I say that Gil Amelio helped run Apple into the ground, I have to admit that he also made the decision that saved Apples life: He bought Next and didnt just get the foundation of Mac OS X (and eventually iOS)he also got Steve Jobs.

By 1997, Jobs ran Apple with absolute power, the kind of power he had never had during his first go-round at Apple. Jobs was a co-founder, yes, and his time working with the original Macintosh team is the stuff of legend. But the Apple of 1985 wasnt Steve Jobss companynot hardly.

When he took the interim CEO job more than a decade later, Jobs didnt make that mistake again. Older and wiser, and with the complete support of Apples board of directors, Jobs remade the company to his specifications. The iMac was a first quick sign of the turnaround. The original iPod and the decision to open retail stores began the real momentum. The release of the iPhone and the iPad marked Apples ascendance to what it is today: The most important technology company in the world.

The Apple of today is hugely profitable, with tens of billions of cash, a 90 percent share of the tablet market, a rapidly growing smartphone business around the world, and the only truly profitable personal-computer franchise left. This is where Steve Jobs leaves Apple as CEO: on top, with momentum to carry it further up.

But the most important thing about what Steve Jobs has done in the past 14 years at Apple is this: Its not all about Steve Jobs. Jobs has built this company in his own image. The executives are people who he trusts, people who have worked with him closely and understand his product philosophy. The creation of Apple University is an attempt to codify what we might as well call the Apple Way, which is essentially the Steve Jobs-driven product and business philosophy that has shaped todays Apple.

So can someone at this modern, Jobs-constructed Apple take Steves place? Of course not. He is irreplaceable, at least by a single person. Theres a reason why Steve Jobs is probably going to go down in history as one of the titans of American business: hes a rare talent. People like Jobs dont show up that often.

Tim Cook, Apples new CEO, is not going to be Steve Jobs. Hes going to apply the business acumen hes always applied. There are other members of Apples executive team that, likewise, will fill in pieces of the puzzle. Steve Jobs essentially wrote the rulebook for how Apple runs, but its not like all of Apples employees sit around waiting for Steve Jobs to tell them what to do.

Is there a danger that Apple after Jobs will slip? First off, theres no guarantee Apple would continue on the roll that its been on, even with Jobs at the helm: Its rare to see a company succeed so spectacularly for so long, and all good runs come to an end. And of course, there are plenty of examples of companies that have lost their way after the departure of a charismatic, creative executiveDisney comes to mind.

Nothing is certain in life. Just ask Steve Jobs, who has watched Apples incredible success for years while dealing with his own brutal, personal health issues. But Apples not doomed to repeat its first post-Jobs fall. Todays Apple is vastly more successful than the Apple of the 1980s never was. Its got a team and a corporate culture that are the envy of the business world. And its had several years to come to grips with the idea that its CEO might not be able to stay in charge forever.

No company is guaranteed survival. The technology industry is ruthless and the pace of change keeps accelerating. But if theres a company thats in a position to survive and thrive even without Steve Jobs as the CEO, its Apple. Now itll be up to Tim Cook and his team to make sure the company sticks to the playbook.

After all, the new chairman of the board will be watching.

This story, "Life after Jobs: Why Apple isn't doomed" was originally published by MacCentral.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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