Steve Jobs, Apple Inc.’s co-founder and former CEO who died Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, created a series of seminal electronics products, reinvented several industries, and built Apple into a $350-billion (U.S.) juggernaut.
Widely hailed as one of the greatest CEO’s in history, Mr. Jobs handed the reins over to long-time operations chief Tim Cook in August, and many analysts believe the company is well-positioned for the future. But his death still leaves many questions.
Q: Can Apple succeed without Mr. Jobs?
Mr. Jobs was famous – some say notorious – for keeping an iron grip on every step of the product development process, from conception to execution. The Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad all shine with his distinct design sensibility. Still, investors and consumers alike had grown accustomed in the past year to the idea of Apple without its visionary leader. Since January 2011, when Jobs went on his third medical and Cook again took over, most observers expected that Jobs would not return to full-time, active duty. Yet investors and customers remained confident in the company.
Apple has plenty of new products in the pipeline, and there should be few bumps in the short term. But it’s not clear if Mr. Jobs’s brilliance – both as a product visionary and a super-salesman – was ultimately transferable. The lukewarm reaction to Cook’s first big product introduction on Tuesday could be seen as a warning sign.
Q: What will happen to Apple’s share price?
Mr. Jobs’s health had been an issue with investors for years (he was diagnosed in 2004), but that has not stopped Apple shares from marching higher. The stock moved little when Jobs announced in August that he was stepping down as CEO, and it moved little in after-hours trading after the announcement of his death Wednesday.
The biggest factors affecting the stock currently are the reliability of its iPhone and iPad product pipeline, and how well the company wards off smart phone challenger Google Inc. and burgeoning rival Amazon.com Inc.
Q: What is Mr. Jobs’s legacy?
Mr. Jobs is counted among the greatest CEOs in history, mentioned in the same breath as Henry Ford and other historical giants of corporate America. One of his most unique achievements was vaulting Apple to world leadership not just once, but twice. After co-founding the company with Steve Wozniak in 1976 and giving the world the Apple II and the Macintosh, he was famously pushed out in a clash with his hand-picked CEO, John Sculley. When Jobs returned in 1997 the floundering company’s survival was in doubt, but he proceeded to radically transform an aging computer-maker and take it in a new, and wildly successful, direction. There are few examples in any field of such a brilliant second act.
Along the way, Mr. Jobs in 1986 also bought Pixar, which was then little more than an experiment in digital animation technology. The company ultimately became a juggernaut of its own, and when it was acquired by Disney in 2006, Jobs became the largest shareholder of the entertainment giant. Again, there are few examples of a CEO turning a side project into a world-class innovator and business success story.
Mr. Jobs’s few critics say the Macintosh was mostly borrowed technology, and beyond that all Apple gave the world was a sleek cellphone and an improved music-player. But many people – in the tech world and beyond – believe his impact on society and culture was monumental. He prompted millions to embrace digital technology, online media and mobile communications in ways they never did before.
Q: Will Apple change under Mr. Cook?
While both Mr. Cook and Mr. Jobs have earned reputations as hard-driving perfectionists, Mr. Jobs’ successor is considered easier to work with. While Mr. Jobs was infamous for chewing out employees – multiple stories have him firing workers in the elevator – Mr. Cook is said to be better at forging consensus.
Whether and how Apple will transform under his stewardship is an open question. But Mr. Cook’s success at Apple is due in large part to his sharing many of his boss’s traits: a demand for perfection, an exhaustive attention to detail, and a hard-nosed attitude at the negotiating table.
In Mr. Cook’s early days, insiders say, his boss occasionally had to step in to get tough media-content negotiations going again. But after years of wringing concessions from Asian production partners and three stints running the empire in Mr. Jobs’ absence, Mr. Cook has a lot of credibility, and confidence in his leadership runs high.
Q: Who else is important to the company’s future success?
Design guru Jonathan Ives, marketing chief Phil Schiller, and mobile-software head Scott Forstall are three of the most important players. Mr. Schiller filled in for Mr. Jobs on several product launches, and with Mr. Cook being more low-key by nature, Mr. Schiller may gain a higher public profile.
Q: What will be Apple’s “Next Big Thing”?
There’s no shortage of speculation on what direction Mr. Cook will take Apple in, and whether Jobs had already laid the foundation for Apple’s “Next Big Thing”. For now, industry speculation centres around some sort of concerted attempt to shake up the living room, and TV. Apple has delivered results in the past by diving into fragmented, stagnating industries – notably music and telephones – and re-imagining them through technological innovation. Many experts say TV and its confusing array of options is ripe for an Apple-like “simple is beautiful” makeover.
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