Friday, January 21, 2011

The Jobs Factor: Leadership is at the Core of Apple's Success

It's fascinating to observe the transformation taking place at Apple as co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs prepares to take another medical leave of absence. Given the fact that Apple stock is ranked second only to ExxonMobil in terms of its market value, there's much at stake as Jobs steps down albeit temporarily. Despite jobs' reassurance that he will remain engaged in major decisions, Apple stock has fluctuated mildly since his announcement. Analysts and stock strategists are obviously concerned about Apple's future without Steve Jobs, but so far, that concern is not stopping investors from purchasing Apple stock. Of greater concern to Apple are the millions of devoted Apple fans around the world who have come to rely on the company and its CEO as their compass for high-tech innovation and wizardry. So far, Apple's adoring fans are solidly behind the company and comfortable with Jobs' medical leave decision.

As one who teaches managers how to become better leaders, I'm intrigued by the "Jobs Factor" as I like to call it. There's no question that Steve Jobs is the face of Apple. As USA Today reported, during Jobs' second term as CEO, which began in August 1997, Apple's stock has soared more than 7,273% versus a 67% gain for Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. That's impressive whether you're an Apple fan or not! It's clear that as CEO, Jobs has inspired a rebirth at Apple leading to such innovative marvels as the iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Stores and the burgeoning industry knows as Apps – slang for Applications – that support all these new products. In short, Apple has transformed how a generation communicates, learns, listens to music and socializes. Steve Jobs continues to demonstrate his brilliance and his Midas touch.

Over the past 100 years, very few leaders have had as great an impact on transforming our world as Steve Jobs. Certainly Thomas Edison, Alfred Sloan (GM), Sam Walton (WalMart), Walt Disney, Bill Gates (Microsoft), Henry Ford, Thomas J. Watson (IBM), Ray Kroc (McDonalds), Estee Lauder, Richard Branson (Virgin), Philip H. Knight (Nike), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Welch (GE) merit mention. In 2005, Fast Company published an outstanding list of the 100 Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century which included Steven P. Jobs at #26.

And so, as Steve Jobs prepares to step aside as CEO for medical reasons, the question behind the question is this. First, will Apple continue its rabid success once Steve Jobs steps down? Secondly, how does a company like Apple design a succession plan to ensure the company's continued success and growth? The second question is profoundly important when the CEO, Steve Jobs, is considered a god among his colleagues, competitors and the business media. The fact is that while Tim Cook can succeed him, no one can replace Steve Jobs.

While no one knows the answers to these key questions, I think Steve Jobs has a surprise in store for all of us. I think Jobs' greatest contribution to Apple will be revealed as he steps aside as CEO and allows Apple's senior leadership team to stand on its own. Remember, Steve Jobs has hired, trained and developed these people over the past 14 years. Jobs' goal has been to ensure Apple's profitability and product success will continue long after he is gone.

Interestingly, for Steve Jobs, this is not unchartered territory. When Jobs resigned as Apple CEO in September 1985 after a bitter confrontation with his board of directors, he was succeeded by a series of less-than-successful CEOs. During Jobs' 12-year absence from Apple, he had time to reflect on his successes and mistakes as a leader, innovator and business strategist. One of the mistakes Jobs acknowledged and vowed not to repeat was hiring the wrong people to lead the largest (and greatest) technology company in the world.

Now, Steve Jobs can step aside knowing he has in place a solid executive management team with capable leaders like Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook and Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer. These leaders have been schooled in how Jobs thinks and fosters creativity and innovation at Apple. They embrace the Apple culture and will maintain its current course to greater successes. Despite the concerns that Steve Jobs' temporary departure from Apple is causing to Wall Street and the business media, I am confident that Apple will continue to outperform its competition because Steve Jobs has learned how to create a culture of excellence and innovation that now permeates all levels of the world's greatest tech company.

About the Author: Tom Hinton is president and CEO of the American Consumer Council. The author of four books, Mr. Hinton is a popular speaker at corporate and association meetings on Leadership, Customer Service and Creating a Culture of Excellence in the Workplace. For information, contact: