When the summer brought the official resignation of Apple leader Steve Jobs, the prediction of the future of Apple Inc. was a common leading topic on tech blogs. I have thought a lot about this topic in the last few months and with the sad news this week of Mr. Jobs passing, it has come to the surface again for me.
I am of the mind that a great leader is greatest when they are able to leave a company and have it flourish in his or her absence. I believe that true leadership is about defining a company’s mission and goals, and building a foundation for ongoing success. Now yes, it is true that a bad leader taking over after a good leader may in fact succeed in tearing the company down in a short span of time, but this is usually, again in my mind, not accidental.
This idea however, is challenged for me in the case of Steve Jobs and Apple Inc., and the short of it is that I am not convinced of Apple’s future without Jobs. I hope I am wrong – I REALLY hope I am wrong, and this statement is not an opinion of his leadership style. In fact, I admit not to be completely aware of his true leadership style –the fictional portrayal in Pirates of Silicon Valley is really the only view I’ve had at all and did I stress – the fictional portrayal.
My concern for Apple Inc. is due to the extraordinary voice Jobs had in the design of Apple products. Bill Gates, in his over two decades at Microsoft, only had his name attached to nine patents. The co-founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, just over a dozen. Contrast that with Steve Jobs and 313 Apple patents, most all of which are directly linked with design. Now, to make sure this is clear, Apple could not have just placed his name on these patents – if they had, the patents would have been canceled. His name on the patents means he had a part in the development and invention. Out of the 313, his name is listed first on 33 of them, signaling that he was most likely the lead inventor.
I ask you all this: With Jobs having such a concrete say in the design and function of Apple products, who will take his place in that arena and if there is nobody – what really will be Apple Inc.’s future?
[Source for patent numbers: Miguel Helft and Shan Carter, "A Chief Executive's Attention to Detail, Noted in 313 Patents," www.nytimes.com, August 25, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/26/technology/apple-patents-show-steve-jobss-attention-to-design.html]