Apple’s enigmatic CEO Steve Jobs, whose contrarian personality is embedded in the culture of his secretive company, created more buzz than any of his trademark theatrical “iProduct “releases. The ground shook in response to his crisp hiatus notice, sent of course, by email. In simple words, he informed his employees that he was taking an undetermined leave of absence in order to face down a force far greater than global free markets in economic turmoil: serious health issues.
In a predictable financial ricochet, analysts and the vox populi went into overdrive, as if to prophesize for a reactionary stock slide to start, a company in jeopardy quick to follow. Sure, this leadership jolt forced the stock price to slide a bit, but as the Wall Street Journal asserted, the dip was not a self-fulfilling prognostication of doom. In fact, the response to Apple’s record earnings news that immediately followed Jobs’ announcement is clear: the iconic brand’s future transcends the ingenuity and potent vision of its founder. More to the point, building a sturdy business demands that the brand be bigger than the leadership personalities within it. It must be built to be resilient to change and speculation, while positioned to harness the opportunity in any transition. And that’s what new or interim C-executive leadership creates for any organization: a reflective pivot point between change and future opportunity.
There are exceptions to consider of course. Would the new OWN Television Network be viable without its namesake leader? Is the Trump Empire sustainable without someone from the famous family at the top?
But as we know from IBM and Gerstner, GE and Welch, and even Microsoft and Gates, durable companies build their business equity around more than their top executive evangelist, innovator and dealmaker. The brand promise must be evident across every touchpoint, from the delivery of customer service to the reliable product quality, and every time there is any interaction between the company and its stakeholders. In today’s open media society where everyone has a microphone and a soapbox via Twitter, blogging and online chat forums, organizational communications fitness must be maintained so that your brand is continually cultivating both disciples and champions across its workforce and customers.
And so as CEO Jobs lightens his workload, look for Apple to move forward doing what he taught it to do best: innovating more cool products that we didn’t know we needed, but now have been conditioned to expect. Today Apple is freed to move beyond the boundaries that Jobs’ daily presence imposed. His legacy will endure in Apple’s purposeful inventions of more transformative consumer and workplace technologies. Its just that his employee crew of thousands doesn’t need Jobs, per se, to be the the day-to-day skipper of S.S. Apple in order to follow the bold course he charted and leaves in their charge. Just as when we purchase an Apple product, we are choosing the company’s overarching brand promises of function, fun and high quality– not the man who stewarded his big ideas from imagination to commercial reality.