Why Steve Jobs’ resignation is a (relative) non-event as Apple becomes a living company


I was just interviewed by ABC TV for tonight’s 7pm news about Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple.

My initial reaction is that is as close to a non-event as it could be. 

It was absolutely major news when Jobs announced his first medical leave for a life-threatening disease. It underlined that he would not be at Apple for ever, and might not return to Apple from his leave. He in fact returned twice, and now on his third medical leave he has said his role as CEO is over.

While Jobs was away interim CEO Tim Cook has proved extremely capable, and there has been no discernible impact on product innovation or product quality from Jobs’ absence. As Cook and Jobs have switched roles over the last year it is clear that Apple is far more than Jobs.

Since Jobs is moving into the chairman role and will still be actively involved in product development, Jobs in fact will be no further from the center of Apple’s energy and drive than he has been for much of the last year. 

Clearly Jobs’ resignation indicates his health his deteriorating and there is a limit to how long and how much he will be contributing to Apple’s future success.

Part of the context for today’s reactions to Jobs’ resignation is that Apple meandered and then foundered under other managers in the period 1984-97 when Jobs was out of the CEO role, before he returned and has led a 90-fold increase in the share valuation since then.

However things are very different today, when a far more mature Jobs, who has also now had experience guiding NEXT and Pixar, has been able to build a company that is far, far more than an execution arm for his vision. He has imbued his vision and quest for excellence in those around him and through the organization.

Is Apple now a ‘living company’ that truly transcends its founder and any individual in it? Possibly not quite, but certainly far more than at any other time in its history, as reflected by the muted stock market response to the news. Apple in the top few most valuable companies in the world, even without Jobs.

Jobs’ resignation as CEO does not mean  Jobs is leaving Apple. However it is a powerful and poignant moment in the transition of Apple evolving into a true living entity beyond the energy of its founder.

In his time at Apple Jobs played a powerful role in creating accessible and engaging personal computing, was pivotal in the shift of music from physical to digital products, and has been instrumental in how we reconceived phones as pocketable multimedia devices, and now experience mobile computing.

There is no other individual who has had such a broad impact in shaping our shift to a technological society. I see Jobs’ resignation of a symbolic event in a broader transition. Yet it is absolutely a time to look back at the impact he has had through Apple and beyond, and appreciate how much his imagination, design esthetics, and relentless focus on quality have made our lives better.