Steve Jobs’ death last week has been mourned by so many of us. It was especially sad for me. It’s taken me days and days to be able to write this piece. Despite the interminable news of his heath issues for the last several years, it’s still hard to grasp that he’s gone. His life and times were an example to us all. What he stood for was particularly meaningful to me.
Steve was more than Apple. His extraordinary life and the body of work he leaves behind will astonish and fascinate future generations for centuries. His spirit will live on in the creation of much of the modern world. More than a visionary, he brought so many of his visions to fruition. More than an inventor, his inventions were honoured by that highest flattery – imitation. More than a businessman, his innovations transformed whole industries. More than the iconic rebel, he refused to accept anything less than ‘insanely great’.
The Apple that Steve rebuilt in the last 15 years of his life is much more than Steve. It’s unlike any modern enterprise. It’s a corporation without the corporate. It’s a tech firm without the technocracy. It’s a design studio without the studio system. It’s retail chain without the chain retailing. It’s a sense of cool that never leaves you cold. It’s a lifestyle company that let’s you pick your own sense of style. It’s a consumer electronics brand whose products and services make your heart sing. It’s the world’s largest online music store and the biggest seller of music of any kind. Before Steve came back, Apple was none of these things. It was 90 days away from bankruptcy.
Steve leaves behind this very different and inordinately better Apple led by one of the best teams in business- period. It’s not just Tim Cook or Jony Ive. It’s not just Phil Schiller or Craig Federighi. It’s the team. It’s a bunch of guys that have played an A-game together, with and without Steve. It’s a top-flight bench of industry-veterans who know what they’re doing. The world has seen them, on and off, without Steve at the helm. This team have earned the confidence of both Wall Street and Main Street, which is more than most leadership teams in the US have done in the recent past.
There’s a deep pipeline at Apple. Steve saw to that before he left his job there and moved on to the next world. The team knows what to do with it. For the last few years, Apple has been capturing the essence of what Steve brought back to Cupertino so that other may follow in his footsteps. Leading and teaching others by example and continuous education will preserve The Apple Way for years to come. Steve knew that writing a book, like Hewlett and Packard did in “The HP Way”, just wouldn’t be enough. He never wanted to see what John Sculley and his successors did to Apple ever happen again.
Apple is destined to become something more than a great American company. It shares many characteristics with a religion or a cult. It is a living culture, a way of life, a philosophy as well as a global brand and a set of products and services. It comes from their marriage of technology and liberal arts. It comes from function melded with feelings. Several times, this unusual and rare blend of the left- and right-brain resulted in a breakthrough experience for Apple’s customer: iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad. The results are undeniable. Unlike so many others, I judge the art, not the artist.
Steve’s impact on the world wasn’t limited to Apple. Without Pixar, the movie business wouldn’t have been the same. Without NeXT software, there would be no OS/X or iOS. Without Steve’s irrepressible showmanship, there would not be the messianic euphoria at the product launch keynotes. Without his decade outside of Apple, there would be no CEO of the Decade. Steve’s grasp on humanity is best summed up in his 2005 Stanford Commencement address.
Changing the guard at Apple is not the end of an era. Steve made sure of that this time. His brilliance and spirit have been captured. His successors know what to do now and for some years to come. The momentum in society is there. The fan club is only growing, particularly outside the US. Steve resigned as CEO only because his ill health would not let him do the job any longer – he said so in his resignation letter. I hope and pray that those who follow him fulfil their potential and seize the opportunity bequeathed to them by their fallen leader.