Friday, December 19, 2008

Africa News Today (AN/Today): How Apple Could Survive Without Steve Jobs By JUSTIN SCHECK and NICK WINGFIELD

Apple Inc. set off shock waves Tuesday by announcing Steve Jobs will not speak at what the company said would be its final appearance at the Macworld trade show. The news sent the company's stock downward, and raised questions about whether Mr. Jobs had new health problems or some new products were not ready.

But another question is likely to persist after the debate dies down: How well could Apple keep up the pace of new products without its iconic chief executive?

[Steve Jobs]

Steve Jobs

Speculation about the continued reign of Mr. Jobs -- which has popped up from time to time since his 2004 treatment for cancer -- underscore how closely Apple's fashion-setting products are identified with its co-founder. There is no sign of any change in his status; an Apple spokesman won't address the issue of his health, but said, "If Steve or the board decides that Steve is no longer capable of doing his job as CEO of Apple, I am sure they will let you know."

What if that situation does change? There is reason for optimism, based on the evolution of the team that develops Apple's hardware, software and services, some people familiar with the company's internal workings say. Some of them believe the group is now strong enough that, barring an exodus of top talent, the company could keep churning out innovative products without Mr. Jobs.

Mr. Jobs did not respond to a request for comment.

In one possible sign of confidence in the management team, an unprecedented number of executives presented during the company's press event to unveil its new MacBook lineup in October, though Mr. Jobs still dominated the event.

Mr. Jobs returned to Apple in 1997— he had left in 1985— and has since overseen the introduction of such ground-breaking products as the iMac, iPod and iPhone. He plays an unusually important role for a CEO in the gestation of such gadgets, agonizing over details that could impact users' experience.

Tech Stocks Led Lower By Apple


Apple led technology shares lower on Wednesday after the tech industry icon's decision not to continue appearing at the annual MacWorld meeting raised questions about the company. (Dec. 17)

Not that Mr. Jobs actually designs products himself. He serves more like an "editor in chief" in refining and improving ideas for Apple gadgets, according to former Apple executives.

"He didn't come up with the ideas, he just filtered them," says Bill Bull, a retired Apple engineer who worked for Mr. Jobs at Apple in the 1980s and again after Mr. Jobs returned.

The hands-on work of Apple's innovations depend more directly on subordinates such as Jonathan Ive, an Apple senior vice president who oversees the company's industrial design team. His group is primarily associated with the physical look and feel of products, such as the unusually slender Macbook Air.

Scott Forstall, another senior vice president, leads the team responsible for the iPhone's operating system and other software. In a sign of his growing importance at the company, Mr. Forstall was twice given the chance to speak at media and technical events earlier this year--and has shown some of the same showmanship that is Mr. Jobs' trademark.

Other crucial figures at Apple now include Ron Johnson, senior vice president of Apple retail, who has masterminded the success of Apple's stores, the hip electronics emporiums that have played a crucial role in the growth of the iPod and Macintosh in recent years.

One change to the team was the announcement in early November that Tony Fadell was stepping down as senior vice president of Apple's iPod division, which makes the innards of those popular gadgets carry out their products' slick features. He first conceived of the iPod, and convinced Mr. Jobs to support the idea despite skepticism from others in the company. Mr. Fadell said he will remain an adviser to Mr. Jobs; Mark Papermaster, a former International Business Machines Corp. executive, has been named to assume the iPod post.

For every design project in the pipeline, Mr. Jobs will hold meetings of two or three hours every week or two with key members of the product team. At those meetings, Mr. Jobs will critique the work in progress and also suggest adding or cutting features.

Glenn Reid, a software developer during Apple's early years who had another stint at the company that ended in 2003, recalls one such meeting just days before a photo-editing program was to go into production. Mr. Jobs decided at the last minute that an index feature on the software made the system unnecessarily complex, and decided to eliminate it, even though documentation for the product had already been printed. It was frustrating to Mr. Reid and his software team, "but it made the product better," Mr. Reid says.

Mr. Jobs's unwillingness to accept compromises – and the unquestioned authority that lets him issue last-minute edicts – have become a key to Apple's success in developing new products, Mr. Reid says. George Crow, an Apple engineer in the 1980s and again from 1998 to 2005, noted that the company struggled during the years when Mr. Jobs was not running Apple.

On the other hand, certain of Mr. Jobs's uncompromising principles with computers – such as wanting "to make the inside beautiful" – ran counter to more practical impulses. On the original Macintosh PC, Mr. Crow says, Mr. Jobs wanted the internal wiring to be in the colors of Apple's early rainbow logo (Mr. Crow says he eventually convinced Mr. Jobs it was an unnecessary expense). On another machine that Mr. Crow worked on for NeXT – the computer maker Mr. Jobs founded between Apple stints – he says Mr. Jobs insisted that the internal power supply be nickel plated, an expensive ornamentation that was eventually discontinued.

More recently, Mr. Crow says, he lobbied for the power supply on an Apple notebook PC to have a flexible rubber piece at the base of the power cord to keep it from pulling out. But designers working for Mr. Ive were set on a design without the piece of rubber, Mr. Crow says, since it looked sleeker. Eventually, a high rate of returns due to the cord pulling out led Apple to add the rubber piece, he says.

Michael Mace, who worked at Apple during Mr. Jobs's absence, argues that Apple should have a successor on the product side who's given a mandate to singlehandedly make key decisions, like Mr. Jobs does now. When Mr. Jobs was gone, Mr. Mace said, good ideas were often lost when committees of executives would compromise too much. "What they would choose was the safest design," he said, rather than the best one.

But Mr. Crow contends that Mr. Jobs has now hired or elevated enough people whose product vision mirrors his that the company could continue to thrive. Mr. Ive is particularly in tune with Mr. Jobs's thinking, he notes. Mr. Jobs's sensibilities are also so deeply ingrained in lower-ranking designers and engineers that "a lot of people there will say 'gee, what would Steve think about this,' when Steve really isn't thinking about it," Mr. Crow says.

Rick Devine, an executive recruiter in Silicon Valley with Devine Capital Partners, thinks Apple could continue to thrive in a post-Jobs world, predicting that the company will depend more on execution in the coming years than the kind of radical reshaping Mr. Jobs engineered over the past decade. Mr. Devine helped recruit Tim Cook, now Apple's chief operating officer, to the company more than a decade ago.

Mr. Cook, who briefly ran Apple during Mr. Jobs's cancer treatment four years ago, is widely expected to immediately pick up the reins again if that were to become necessary. But the choice of a permanent successor may be another question.

Apple won't discuss details of its succession plan. But Mr. Devine expects Apple to do something like what Walt Disney Co. did a few years ago in picking a CEO; the entertainment giant considered an internal candidate, Robert Iger, as well with outside executives such as eBay Inc.'s former CEO Meg Whitman.

He said corporate boards rarely disclose in advance of a formal CEO search who the most likely internal candidate is for the top job. "That's not healthy for the four or five people who would like to be considered for the role," Mr. Devine says.

Most observers believe that without Mr. Jobs -- whose on-stage product revelations have become major media events -- the "kind of excitement that comes out on a periodic basis would be far less," said Charlie Wolf, an analyst who follows Apple for Needham & Co.

There is little sign that Mr. Jobs is ready to give up the position of public pitchman, despite Apple's announcement Tuesday that said the keynote presentation at this year's Macworld show in early January will be given by Phillip Schiller, its marketing chief. Apple spokesman Steve Dowling traced the switch to its decision to stop using Macworld as a major forum.

Though Mr. Jobs's gaunt appearance at an event last June event set off jitters about his health, subsequent statements Mr. Jobs made to associates suggested little reason for concern, people familiar with the matter say. He told associates that he recovered from an infection that kept him bedridden for several days before the June event, and previously had surgery to correct a digestive problem that caused weight loss, these people say. Mr. Jobs also told people at that time that he was cancer-free.

Write to Justin Scheck at and Nick Wingfield at

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