Why Apple doesn't need Steve Jobs

Aug 25, 2011

Farhad Manjoo chatted about why Apple won't die without Steve Jobs. Manjoo took reader questions about Apple, Steve Jobs and the future of the tech industry.

Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO
Who Needs Him? Apple will do amazingly well without Steve Jobs.

Hi everyone. I'm ready to take your questions on Steve Jobs and Apple after his tenure. Let's chat!

Apple seemed to have benefited greatly from having a charismatic boss who was able to get us to buy every new product. How can they replace that charisma?

The short answer is that they can't replace the charisma. Or, at least, they can't immediately. Apple's executive team has a lot of skills, but Jobs was singularly good at presenting new products to the public, and at inspiring employees to do better than what they believed they were capable of.

But as I wrote in Slate today, I believe that much of Jobs' personality has already been injected into the culture of Apple. That won't be the same thing as having him there every day, saying what's great (and, usually, what stinks) about products they're working on. But I believe that he's inculcated some of his keen product sense in everyone around him, and they'll be able to at least approximate some of his genius.

How bad do you think his health is? Is that definitely the reason he resigned?

I have no idea. The only clue comes in this Businessweek piece, in which an unnamed source "described Jobs' condition as weak but added that his resignation was not indicative of a sudden downturn." I wouldn't want to speculate beyond that, but I hope he's well.

Steve Jobs' charisma helped sell a lot of product. Does a successful company need a charismatic leader at its helm?

I think we tend to overestimate the effect of Jobs' "charisma" on Apple's sales. I think they're much more attributable to great products at great prices. In recent years Apple's sales have skyrocketed even while Jobs has taken a less public role. This suggests his public face is not the main reason for Apple's success.

When you do you think Apple stock will come back up?

It looks like it's following the rest of the market today -- down just a little bit. So maybe it won't take a hit at all.

I know that many people complain about the salaries some CEOs earn, but when you look at many successful companies over the past 50 years, you see that when their leader retires, a lot of companies struggle. I am not saying that ALL CEOs are good, but some are exactly who the company needs to succeed and they don't always find a way to groom someone to take over when they leave. I don't know about the rest of the team at Apple, but I have always felt that Steve Jobs was a very important figure. I have never been a fan of Apple and don't own any of their products, but I DO recognize the contributions they have made to the state of modern technology.

I don't disagree. But if Steve Jobs' is a model CEO, let's make his pay package the model for other leaders: Since he came back to Apple in 1996, he's asked for and received a salary of $1 per year. He's also received reimbursement for private jet travel -- but Apple has always reported the amount. Sure, he has a great deal of Apple stock, but the growth of his shares can be attributed to his own success there. His Apple stake is now worth about $2 billion.

See this Business Insider piece for more

If I could, I'd ask him what he hopes his legacy will be. It won't be the iPhone 5; technology will march on without him, though probably a bit less elegantly. I would hope he'd say he hopes it's a lesson in dedication and perseverance and in being the person you truly are. - From Post commenter roaxle

He once said his goal is to "put a ding in the universe." I've always loved that quote. 

He covers his approach to life really well in the commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005. Watch it here.

Steve Jobs has been, especially the last 15 or so years, a central disruptor in the world of tech. Under his second tenure as CEO, Apple has gone from boutique PC company to leading "semipro" luxury tech and media brand. His investments in Pixar have paid off with a central place on Disney's board. In essence, he has fundamentally disassembled existing scripts and reassembled them in a new way (from PCs to iPhones to music to movies). With him backing away from being the central personality in tech and media consumption, who will be the person/people to serve as that disruptive touchstone? Can Larry Page do it? Or is this a once-a-century type of person?

That's a great question. I think the answer is, We don't know. But it will be someone, and we'll find out soon enough. Some obvious candidates include: Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Jeff Bezos. Not-so-obvious candidates include Jack Dorsey, who invented Twitter and Square, the new mobile payments service, and Reed Hastings of Netflix. But it could be none of these people, too -- someone we've never heard of who'll come along tomorrow and change everything. This is the amazing thing about covering tech.

Thanks for your questions, everyone. Here's to Steve Jobs!

In This Chat
Farhad Manjoo
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society.
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