Steve Jobs: The Worst Case Scenario

By James Mowery

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Our favorite company has, once again, lost Steve Jobs to an illness. He came back before, though. But what if — and I truly would hate it if this happened — the worst possible scenario came true? What if he doesn’t reclaim his Apple empire? What if this is the end of Steve Jobs the visionary? It all seems like it could crumble to nothing.

Yet it wasn’t but so long ago when someone not so different from Steve Jobs decided to call it quits. He headed an impressive company, too. It was, at the time, Apple’s largest threat and sworn enemy. It was Microsoft.

The brilliant mind behind Microsoft was, at the time, Bill Gates. He propelled Microsoft to its current superstar status. He also created an technological empire that few others have managed to mimic. The company continued to make progressions and expand its dominance throughout the 1990s and 2000s. However, on June 27, 2008, Bill Gates officially left Microsoft. He left behind one of the largest software companies in the world after being with the company since its creation. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the same since.

Steve Ballmer took over. Gates’ successor had great promise: his famous “developers, developers, developers” sequence gives credence to that, similarly to how Tim Cook is being praised. However, even a great mind like Ballmer’s couldn’t take Gates’ vision and accomplish what the company’s founder had done previously. Innovation and drive eventually evaded Microsoft. Beyond Windows Phone 7, which was only half of a decade late to the party, the company has remained in a state of limbo. For a company that appears to be doing so much, so little is being accomplished.

To assume that Apple is any different is somewhat naive, and Steve Jobs knows it is the truth.

Apple

Jobs was kicked out of Apple by then CEO John Sculley. Things between Jobs and Sculley got heated, and after many disagreements about the way Jobs was running the company, Sculley let the co-founder go. Indeed, Apple’s last remaining co-founder was gone.

Years passed, but Steve Jobs moved on. He was experiencing his own personal successes at NeXT Computer and Pixar. The same couldn’t be said for Apple, though. The company was experiencing all-time lows. It was only before things were at their worst that the company decided to seek Jobs’ assistance, in the hope of restoring the company to its former greatness. And, well, you already know the rest of the story.

The culture at Apple is far different than any other company. There is one man calling the shots. That person is Steve Jobs — he acts more like a dictator and less like a person who holds responsibilities to employees and shareholders. He does what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants — the rest of the world might not agree with it, but he will still get his way at the end of the day. It is his vision, no one else’s.

To ask another person to take over at Apple and make Jobs’ vision work without compromising core values is difficult, if not impossible. I don’t understand what has given anyone the slightest vote of confidence that Steve Jobs’ departure would be “okay.” I don’t think this would be “okay.” In fact, I think it could lead to an incredible turmoil and power struggle within the company.

The Successor

The person left to pick up the pieces is Tim Cook. He is the person who is, at least unofficially, labeled by many as Steve Jobs’ successor. He seems like a great guy. As one commenter here at Maciverse pointed out, he has great wisdom and insight, as was noted at an earnings call in 2009. “We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products, and that’s not changing,” he stated.

He sounds like a top-of-the-line business man who belongs at a Fortune 500 company; I’m not doubting that for a minute. But will it make for a good fit for Apple? That I’m not so sure.

Tim Cook, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer and now acting CEO, started out working at IBM for 12 years and then spent 6 months at Compaq. He joined Apple in March 1998, after Steve Jobs convinced him to join the company. He has been with Apple ever since. His biggest accomplishment at the company has been reducing the company’s wasteful spending and increasing margins — hardly something I would relate to Steve Jobs. But he has been in the drivers seat before.

He was at the helm of Apple in 2004 for two months when Jobs was dealing with his pancreatic cancer recovery and again in 2009 when Jobs dealt with his liver transplant. But these previous experiences are are hardly worth being mentioned. His time in control was limited, and he took over during times when products were already announced and the company was seemingly on autopilot. He just had to make sure that nothing truly bad happened.

But I don’t honestly believe that Cook has come up with his own vision for a product that would revolutionize an industry; Steve Jobs has. I don’t believe Cook has excited the press with a killer product; Steve Jobs has. I don’t believe Cook has had to deal with the pressure of actually directing the future of one of the world’s most recognizable tech brands; Steve Jobs has. But Steve Jobs is out of the equation.

Now Cook has the job again and is acting as CEO. It might be a longer stint this time. This could become permanent if things get crazy. But as it stands, he has control of Apple. Cook might have the opportunity to make some incredibly tough decisions that Steve Jobs has made in the past. Only time will tell.

But I’m sure he will do fine, for now. The questions arise only if some of the worst case scenarios come true.

Short Term Stability; Long Term Uncertainty

If it does come down to Steve Jobs leaving Apple for an extended period of time or even longer, there are certain things that can be expected in the short term:

  • Apple’s stock price will take a serious hit.
  • The Apple machine will continue to run as scheduled.
  • Money will still be made and consumers will still buy.
  • The stock price will return to normal.
  • New product revisions will be produced with incremental upgrades.
  • Apple will still be an incredible company.

But when it comes to the long term, things get more complicated:

  • The direction of iOS becomes more complicated.
  • The future of iMac and Macbook will draw questions, especially as the Mac App Store grows.
  • Apple’s transition to cloud-based services could lack direction.
  • The ability to create new mind-blowing innovations could come to a halt.
  • The ability to make revolutionary impacts in both old and new marketplaces could end.
  • The stock price could stall or tank.

That is a somewhat grim outlook of the long-term future if Steve Jobs doesn’t return to Apple, but it is certainly possible.

Hopeful Return

So, yes, I’m skeptical of Tim Cook’s ability. I don’t really know if he has the spunk that Steve Jobs has to keep the ship moving forward. Ironically, Tim Cook is probably the only person suitable for the job, considering how close he has been with Steve Jobs over the years. It doesn’t mean I have to believe in him because of what he has said. I can only go by what he has done.

Furthermore, this should highlight the fact that Steve Jobs is such an integral part at Apple. He is the man behind the company. He is the one that makes the decisions. He is the one who will kick ass and piss off people to have his vision realized.

I just can’t imagine someone else filling those shoes; I hope I won’t have to. Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling this time around. I just hope I’m wrong.

About James Mowery
James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist, entrepreneur, and Apple enthusiast who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable, Techi, and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

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