Before naming him CEO of the Decade, perhaps Fortune magazine should have asked other successful CEOs: Could Steve Jobs run your company? The question is not meant to diminish Job’s success, just put it into perspective.
Apple is a company that Steve Jobs has–twice–created in his own image. The second incarnation has been an incredible success. For that, “CEO of the Decade” might be appropriate.
However, if we measure greatness by overall ability, that is the ability to run a company as he finds it and leave it for someone else, Jobs fails. I think a survey of other CEOs would have made that point.
What will people say when the Jobs era ends and Apple sinks? That happened after Jobs was forced out (for cause) in 1985 and there is little reason to think it will not repeat the next time Jobs leaves.
(Here is another view of the honor, from Dan Moren at Macworld).
The current Apple team, which works wonderfully around Jobs, probably would not work so well without him. And as for finding the next Steve Jobs? There won’t be one. Whether or not he’s CEO of the Year, Decade, or Century, Steve Jobs is one thing for sure: Magic.
Nobody comes close to Steve Jobs in being able to imbue a product with whatever it is he has. His magic does not always work–see the part about Next, Inc. in Jobs’ biography. Yet, it has worked splendidly in consumer products, be they computers, music players, the recording industry, or motion pictures (with Pixar).
Apple without Steve Jobs lost its way between 1985 and his return in 1997. Good people tried, failed, and almost sent the company into bankruptcy before Jobs was invited back.
For Apple, Steve Jobs is what George Washington has been for America: The Indispensible Man. No Washington, no America as we know it. No Steve Jobs, no Apple as we know it.
Again, the difference is George Washington created something with self-replenishing talent. None, perhaps, as good as G.W., but good enough to last.
Will Apple last without Steve? Of course, it takes a long time to squander the bankroll Steve has built. Nevertheless, is there a system in place to replace Steve with someone as talented? Not that we have seen.
More likely, in the post-Jobs era, Apple will end up trying to hold on more than move forward, which some say is what characterizes Microsoft after Bill Gates.
The difference between Steve and other great CEO’s–including Bill Gates and even his friend, Larry Ellison– is that after Jobs, there may be no third act for Apple. Microsoft and Oracle will survive Gates and Ellison.
The real reason Steve Jobs deserves CEO of the Decade is that, beyond being an incredible success in his second Apple incarnation, he is one other thing: impossible to replace. So why try?
People who really love Apple’s products understand this, I think.
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