What Steve Jobs’ Resignation Means for Apple
Business + Economy

What Steve Jobs’ Resignation Means for Apple

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Everybody has heard the news by now: Steve Jobs has resigned because, as he put it, he “could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO.”

My first immediate reaction is sorrow that he's stepping down. I presume that his decision is health related, and wish him and his family well.
My second reaction, to paraphrase Monty Python, is that he ain't dead yet. His brief and eloquent resignation letter,  released by Apple Wednesday, says he plans to hang around a while as chairman of the company’s Board of Directors.

Will Steve Jobs die? Of course. Silly question, as he would be the first to say. In his graduation speech to Stanford’s Class of 2005, Jobs said: “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

I suspect Jobs might see stepping down as CEO in the same Schumpeterian way. He and Steve Wozniak started Apple in a garage and it’s now the most valuable company on the whole frigging planet. Apple sets the agenda for the global technology industry. Jobs himself is by consensus the most important business executive alive today. Earlier this year he effectively decreed that the Personal Computer Era was over, and last week the world’s No. 1 PC company, Hewlett-Packard, effectively said, “You’re right again, Steve. You kicked our butt. We give up.”

It would be hard to conceive of a better time to say “Mission Accomplished” and hand the keys to the next generation.

Follwing the announcement, AAPL stock is getting cored, down 5 percent—or more than $17 billion in value—in after-hours trading. That’s silly, too, for anyone with a view that goes beyond a day or two.

There's always lots of new stuff in the pipeline at Apple, and Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO, already has been running things on a day-to-day basis for some time. Will Cook be as good a CEO as Jobs has been? No one knows. Can he be even better? Again, no one knows.

One thing we do know is that Jobs’ DNA already inculcates the culture at Apple. That may change a few years out, but ... that's a few years out. The fact that Jobs is no longer CEO of Apple is not suddenly going to make HP or Microsoft or Dell any smarter. The fact that Tim Cook is now running things is not going to allow any of Apple’s competitors to execute their strategies any better.

We also know that Apple is probably going to introduce a fifth-generation iPhone this fall that will run on all carriers, including new carriers in the world’s largest untapped market for smartphones, China. The fact that Steve Jobs is no longer at the helm will not cause millions of Chinese, or Americans for that matter, to slap their foreheads in the realization that Android, Windows Mobile, and WebOS are suddenly the best choices for mobile platforms.

Notice also the not-so-subtle jab in Jobs' letter of resignation: "I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan." There is in fact a succession plan at Apple and the Board just approved it by naming Cook CEO.

I suspect that Tim Cook didn’t open his first conversation with the Board of Directors by saying, “Okay, boys, now that I’m running the show we’re going to reinvent this company from top to bottom. I’ve been itching to go completely open and dump this whole ‘Apple ecosystem’ strategy.”

At the same time, I can’t think of any company that is as closely identified with its CEO as Apple was under Steve Jobs. Apple without Steve Jobs (or, to be accurate, Apple with Steve Jobs in the Sinatra-esque role of Chairman of the Board) will not be perceived as the same company. Jobs is a genius. The genius is (sort of) gone. Therefore, some of Apple’s genius is gone, too, until proven otherwise.

But fear not. It’s not like Tim Cook is the second coming of Gil Amelio, Apple’s CEO before Jobs returned in 1997. I remember sitting in the front row at a Macworld conference in the mid-1990s, as a Jobs-less Apple appeared to be in a death spiral, as then-CEO Amelio gave a rambling keynote address while absent-mindedly beginning to undress himself on stage. Apple PR folks were apoplectic. It’s hard to imagine Tim Cook melting down in a similar way.

In that commencement address at Stanford six years ago, a healthier-looking Jobs gave a speech that was very much like the Apple products for which he is known: Elegantly crafted, with attention to detail, rich in content, but no unnecessary words or buttons. He was talking to a fresh crop of Stanford graduates, but his message almost certainly applies to Tim Cook, Phil Schiller and all the other top Apple executives who are now at the helm.

“Don't be trapped by dogma,” Jobs said, “which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Jobs also said this: “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

So, Steve woke up one morning recently and decided he needed to change something besides the world. Namaste, dude.

-Peter H. Lewis has been writing about Steve Jobs and Apple since before the introduction of the Macintosh, at The New York Times and at Fortune magazine. He lives on the same street as Steve Jobs in Palo Alto, Calif.