Impact of the Apple management change

Wednesday, 7 September 2011 01:40 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It is true that Steve Jobs bowed out as Apple CEO, but I am sure he will not bow out as the maestro of personal technology. Apple enjoys a tight-lipped culture and true to its tradition, Apple is not spelling out how actively involved Jobs will be as the company’s new Chairman.

He has to tend to his fragile health, after surviving pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant during the past seven years. Long-time Apple watchers have no doubt that Jobs will weigh in on all key decisions and help sculpt the company’s future product line-up.

Big-picture ideas

Jobs will relish the opportunity to focus more on ‘big-picture’ ideas and less on the more mundane tasks of running a company that can now be left to Tim Cook and others, says Jay Elliot, a former Apple Vice President who worked closely with Jobs in the 1980s.

“Steve is incredibly passionate about the product. His whole life is driven by the product,” says Elliot who wrote a book ‘The Steve Jobs Way – iLeadership for a New Generation’. “I view him as an artist making sure the final painting is a masterpiece.”

“I know enough about Steve Jobs to know that as long as he has a breath in him, he will be giving direction at Apple,” said Tim Bajarin, President of Creative Strategies and Dean of Apple analysts. “He is going to remain Apple’s chief visionary.”

Watch and contribute

In his resignation letter as CEO, Jobs wrote that he planned to be ‘watching’ and ‘contributing’ to Apple’s success as Chairman, a position that had long been vacant. In a sign of his commitment, Jobs put in a full day at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters during his last full day as CEO, even though he was technically still on medical leave, said Yankee Group Analyst Carl Howe.

Bajarin and other people in close contact with Apple said that Jobs remained intimately involved there even as he spent 14 of the 32 months on medical leave of absence. During that stretch, Apple kept pumping out smash hits and became more successful than ever, with its market value swelling from US$ 80 billion to nearly US$ 350 billion today.

Forced out

Even so, the mere spectre of Apple operating without Jobs conjures unwelcome memories. After co-founding Apple in 1976 and establishing it as a trailblazer, Jobs was forced out in 1985. When he finally returned in 1997, the company was in danger of going bankrupt and even needed financial help from Microsoft to survive.

The ongoing prosperity during Jobs’ recent illness is a testament to the management team he assembled and schooled and to his own ability to remain engaged and inspired even as he convalesces.

Apple’s DNA

The Steve Jobs way is so deeply ingrained in Apple’s DNA that analysts are convinced that the new CEO Tim Cook and key subordinates no longer need to hear from Jobs every day to know what he wants.

In a letter to Apple’s employees, Cook stressed that he would not mess with the formula that worked so well during Job’s 14-year tenure as CEO. “I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change,” Cook wrote. “I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values. Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that.”

Cook also noted that he was “looking forward to Steve’s ongoing guidance and inspiration”.

Apple’s key players

Cook, who has run Apple during all three of Job’s medical absences since 2004, will have ample help beyond his former boss. The other key players include marketing guru Phil Schiller, Design Chief Jonathan Ive, software mastermind Scott Forstall and Head of Finance Peter Oppenheimer. “If you were trying to describe this group of people, it would be the dream team of executive management,” said Howe. Nearly all the key Apple executives have been at the company for years, many of them joining the company around the time of Jobs’ 1997 return.

Considering the carefully-woven management fabric of Apple, it can be forecasted that the management change in Apple, as seen from this analysis, will not have any negative impact on the business and the forward push of the company.

Sri Lankan dream teams?

How many Sri Lankan companies can boast of dream teams at the top? Do all management committee members pull with the same speed and intensity? How many CEOs could comfortably have a good night’s sleep without tossing in bed, surrounded with uncertainty and misgiving?

In the light of this and taking a lesson from Apple, it may be prudent for Sri Lankan business leaders to ‘grow their own timber,’ i.e., recruit for positive/‘right’ attitude and teach the skills endemic to the business, whilst baptising them in the tradition and culture of the company; in other words, to school the key executives with strong succession plans and lines in place. Make the performance management tool meaningful and purpose-driven.  We have, in Sri Lanka and amongst us, brilliant persons leaders in management, IT, marketing, HR, etc. It is the will to succeed and purpose-driven business needs that will win at the end of the day. The two things we need to do with utmost and critical importance are:

1. Pay greater attention to the recruitment procedure to make sure the right talented is selected.

2. Create awareness among managers of the great importance of the performance appraisal process.

(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)

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