Monday, January 19, 2009

Continuity Plans Lacking for Apple


I know I'm not alone in saying this, but Apple has done a lousy job of reassuring their shareholders with a viable continuity plan for the post-Jobs era. This is not a new subject for the tech industry. It happened with Gerster at IBM, and of course Gates at Microsoft. Both of those situations showed the world, and the stock markets, what it means to have a smooth transition plan ready to go. Last minute announcements don't work very well, as Apple's stock price reaction on January 5 clearly showed.

So, now it's been quite a few days since the big announcement that Steve was ill, as well as the bigger announcement that Steve is taking a "leave of absense". But where is the contingency plan? Who at Apple has the charisma and vision, combined, to continue on the momentum they currently have? Tim Cook? Pete Oppenheimer? Phill Schiller? Hell no. No more than anyone can say (with a straight face) that Steve Ballmer is carrying the same momentum Gates did. At least it's possible to say Sam Palmisano has done a fair job of keeping IBM on its feet after the heroic efforts of Lou Gerstner.

IBM learned early on to avoid letting the CEO become the icon of the company. It's risky. It works great while the going is good. But when it ends (and it has to end) it goes badly. Not too many companies have risen by virtue of a singular human icon and lived to prosper during the next generation of leadership. They almost always get acquired or simply whither away.

I'm surprised that Apple (or rather, Steve Jobs) hasn't spent more time planning out their continuity and, even if they have, done a better job of reassuring their shareholders and the media about their plans. I hope Apple does well. I'd hate to see them fall from the ladder they've built so well until now. They've paved the way in so many areas and kept competition alive in the technology and consumer electronics markets. Without the iPod, we'd still be lugging brick-sized Sony crap around to listen to music (forget video). Without the iPhone, there probably STILL wouldn't be any touch-screen phones in mass production. The concept of an "App Store" is another concept they've pioneered in the cell market. They've had their share of duds in the past, but lately, they've been firing on all cylinders and very well. I just hope that if/when Jobs returns to his post, he focuses on who will succeed him and it had better be someone that instills a real sense of "Wow!" in everyone.
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