What happens to a brand when key people like Steve Jobs of Apple leave?

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The founder and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, has been diagnosed with cancer and has been given a limited time to live. Currently he is on a sick leave, but is still participating in meetings and involved with the strategic and product development decisions. When Jobs emailed his employees at Apple declaring his leave of absence for health reasons he declared “ I will still continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions of the company.”  This absence is the third medical absence that he has taken over the past seven years. However, although Jobs has managed to stay involved in the company during his medical absences, there is constant speculation as to what will happen to the company if the illness were to prove terminal.

Shareholders Enquire About Succession Plans

This has partly become an issue due to a shareholder group formally demanding to know Apple’s succession plans for Job’s role as CEO. However Apple has refused to share this information with the public.

In contrast to other big companies, Apple has been greatly defined by its founder. Will the company flourish or fail following Job’s departure? Sometimes, when a company has a charismatic leader, like Jobs, and the company has been structured around this leader the chances of the company’s brand suffering are quite high, when that leader leaves. However, so far Apple has not suffered during Jobs absences (although this is unsurprising given that Jobs has continued to work behind the scenes despite his illnesses).

This is the first of two blog posts that will consider the likely impact on the Apple brand of Jobs departure from the company.  Here we explain why people believe Apple will not cope without Jobs.  In our next article I will look at why others believe Apple will manage without him. 

Why Apple will not cope without Jobs

Those who are less optimistic about the success of Apple without Jobs see him as being so central to Apple that they do not believe that it will be possible to replace him.

Jobs has been key to Apple’s successes and his vision has carried the company to where it is today. So without Jobs’ unique abilities to motivate his employees, Apple might not do as well without him. 

Look what happened to Apple during Jobs 10 year absence

Back in 1985 Jobs had a period of absence, when after a series of events the board voted him out. In these 10 years when Jobs was no longer in power the company failed miserably, and by the time Jobs returned to Apple it was close to bankruptcy. It had fallen behind Microsoft, with Windows being more advanced than Classic Mac OS. Billions was spent without much product output and Apple spent a lot of money on a six-year lawsuit with Windows.

When Jobs did return to the company he managed to turn it around. It was Jobs who had the unified vision the company needed. Once he returned he simplified and consummerised the brand and streamlined its marketing.

Lorna Tibian, an analyst, said “he came back in 1997 and saved the company, and from then on he has launched the most innovative consumer products of our lifetime- the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.“     His perfectionism has helped to create Apple into the brand it is today and perhaps without him Apple would lack the guidance and vision it needs. Looking back through the history of Apple as a company it is evident that Jobs’ input has been vital. If the past has shown what Apple would be like without Jobs, then it could also indicate what the future would be like without him.

However, although Apple suffered without Jobs previously, it is a lot stronger as a company now, indicating it might cope without him. In the next article I will be looking at the factors that point towards Apple being able to manage without Steve Jobs.  There are lessons in this for any brand that is dependent on key people.