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Can Apple keep its cool?

In my leadership classes I argue that individuals can make a difference – even in the largest organisations. Apple is a global ...

25 August 2011)

In my leadership classes I argue that individuals can make a difference – even in the largest organisations.

Can Apple keep its cool

Apple is a global business – rated earlier this year as the world’s most valuable corporation – yet it is impossible to make sense of the enterprise without understanding one person: Steve Jobs. Is there another modern example where one man has held such influence?  The impact of his resignation as CEO on the Apple share price is simply one indicator of the Jobs effect.

Jobs distinguishes himself as a leader with passion and vision.  He is “different” – and uses his differences.  The turtleneck sweater and jeans are a trademark.  Many of the the core values of the culture and the brand – creative, cool, fun - are associated personally with him.  He excites not only employees but also consumers.

So what now for Apple?  What kind of leadership issues does the organisation face?

The good news is as follows.  First, the transition is not a surprise; it has been widely anticipated.  Second, the business is in rude health with a healthy pipeline – at least in the near future.  Third, around Jobs there is a team imbued with Apple values and talented in design, marketing and operations.
But there are challenges.  Can the phenomenal growth be sustained?  Can Apple stay “cool” even as the dominant player?  How can the new leadership ensure, to quote Jobs, that the best days lie ahead?

The new CEO and his team need to establish and extend their own leadership credentials – communicate their differences and their personal passions, whilst at the same time staying true to the core values that have made Apple great.  This is a delicate balance that requires skilful situation sensing inside Apple – and beyond in the market.

But the transition is possible – witness in this sector, for example, how Hewlett Packard in an earlier era was able to successfully institutionalise values that came personally from its founders.  There is no doubt that Steve Jobs will be missed – but there is no need for all that Apple stands for to go missing.

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