Learning to succeed without Jobs a matter of survival for Apple

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:21pm


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In 1939 Bill Hewlett and David Packard founded Hewlett-Packard in a garage in Palo Alto, a small town near San Francisco. The HP garage has moved into history, and has even been preserved to this day. It created the myth, but Apple created the fairy tale.

On April Fool's Day in 1976, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and Ronald Gerald Wayne founded Apple Computer. A few months later, Wayne gave up and sold his 10 per cent for US$800, claiming to this day that it was not a mistake. Few believe him.

As Apple prepares for its 30th birthday, one question looms: What would Apple be without Steve Jobs?

There are a handful of technology companies run by dynamic men, such as Oracle (Larry Ellison), Microsoft (Bill Gates until a few years ago), Sun (Scott McNealy) and, of course, Apple, originally with Mr Jobs, then without him, and now with him again.

Microsoft has already learnt to live without its founder, Oracle seems to be doing quite all right while Mr Ellison goes sailing (and does other things), Sun is struggling right now but it has lots of talent and could survive without Mr McNealy - but Apple is Steve Jobs.

Apple's history has certainly been mixed. It began when the personal computer revolution itself began. Steve Wozniak was the genius engineer and Steve Jobs was the visionary with an astute marketing and sales sense.

It has been said about Apple that while others spend millions on focus groups, Apple waits for Mr Jobs to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror - and Apple gets it right more often than its competitors.

As this Buddhist semi-recluse basks in his new wealth (he now owns 5 per cent of Disney based on the sale of his company, Pixar, to Disney a few months ago), he may well remember that it has not been so easy.

Apple rose like a rocket in the 1970s and early '80s. Although it was not the first company to make a PC, its name became synonymous with computing early on. The company was in the right place at the right time, and basked in phenomenal success.

When Microsoft and IBM got together to create the first IBM PC, Apple, under the direction of Mr Jobs, was working on the Macintosh, the first computer 'for the rest of us'. It didn't happen overnight, but the Mac created another revolution: the graphical user interface.

But things quickly went wrong, and the company suffered from extraordinary hubris and paid a terrible price. Mr Jobs was indelicately thrown out in 1985 by his mentor, the former Pepsi boss John Scully. In a few years, obituaries of Apple Computer were in all the papers and magazines. The headlines were full of images of rotting cores and other expired fruit.

Apple's troubles were tremendous. Not only did it have serious management and sales problems, its new operating system was in a mess. Just when it really seemed to be over, the new bosses at Apple made an extraordinary move: it bought Mr Jobs' company NeXT and said it would use his Unix base for its new operating system. Steve Jobs was back, if not in control.

That did not take long. He soon regained the company he had founded. One of the first things he did was to put an Englishman, Jonathan Ive, in charge of design. Mr Jobs was determined to get rid of the mediocrity that had crept in and bring good design back to Apple. It worked.

Since the resurrection of Apple with the iMac, PowerBooks, iBooks and others, the beginning of this century looked pretty good. But there was more to come. With Mr Jobs at the helm, Apple broke away from computers and went head-on into the music business. With more than 43 million iPods in the world and the iTunes music store, Apple has radically changed the way we listen to music.

But that's not all. Apple recently dumped its IBM chips and is moving to Intel. Hackers have put the Mac OS on a standard Intel box and put Windows on a Mac-built Intel box, something Apple had said could not be done.

So, Mr Jobs has done very well for himself. But the question is: How long can he continue to help Apple?

Few firms have been quite so dominated by one individual and, no matter how much some may admire that individual, it is not good corporate governance to be so dependant on one person.

If Apple wants 30 more years of success, it must come up with a way to do it without Steve Jobs.