The trials of Jobs

 
Steve Dinneen
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Steve Jobs’ shock resignation was followed by the inevitable panic. Jumpy investors piled out of Apple stock, knocking $25bn from its market cap, most of which was soon recouped. But it will be months and years, not days and weeks, until the effects of his loss become clear.

A man of his talent and vision will be missed, that much is beyond doubt. But Apple is in a stronger position today than it ever has been. Its rivals, rather than encroaching on Apple territory, are backing off in key battlegrounds – HP axing its smartphone and tablet operations being the latest example.

Right now, Apple is king of the jungle, the second most valuable company in the world and one of only 10 to top the S&P 500. And it’s all because of one man. Yesterday, amongst the tributes that read almost like obituaries, Jobs was being hailed as one of the all-time greats of the business world, worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and Bill Gates.

But Jobs has never revolutionised the business world, despite the envious looks from rivals.

Apple is famous for its vertically integrated model; the supply chain is tightly monitored, it controls both the platform and software, the distribution and retail. Every aspect of every product is centrally controlled from Cupertino. The model facilitates Apple’s sumptuous design – rival tablets don’t compete with the iPad2, they still compete with its predecessor – and allowed Jobs to command unbeatable margins.

But Carnegie had mastered the art of vertical integration almost 100 years before Jobs applied the same principles. His steel empire spanned coal-fields, furnaces and railroads, elevating Carnegie from a bobbin boy in a cotton mill to the owner of one of the biggest industrial infrastructures in the world.

Production techniques mastered by Ford are still used across the world – Apple has just streamlined them. Indeed, the apocryphal Ford quote could just as easily apply to Apple: “Any colour you like as long as it’s brushed aluminium…”.

Jobs is renowned for his fierce business acumen, playing hard-ball with suppliers and developers. But he pales in comparison to Gates, who struck a famously golden deal to supply an operating system for IBM and mercilessly exploited the competitive advantage for more than two decades, crushing any competition, often to the chagrin of regulators.

So why is Jobs so special? Apple’s chief designer Jony Ive once quipped: “New is easy. Doing something better is very hard.”

And this is Jobs’ true genius – taking what exists and making it better; cherry-picking the best of Ford, a touch of Carnegie, a sprinkle of Gates and adding to it an unparalleled, unflinching confidence in his products. Where most of his S&P 500 peers follow the money, Jobs followed the product, confident the money would find him. When he unveiled the latest Apple product at Macworld, he really meant it when he said “I think this is the coolest thing we’ve ever made”. And he’s usually right.

In many respects Jobs was the perfect chief executive: visionary, astute, in command of both the big picture and the smallest detail.

He has an uncanny ability to surround himself by the most talented people; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, a computer wizard of a far higher order than Jobs, who once upon a time used to finish Jobs’ Atari homework for him; Essex-boy Ive, one of the most talented consumer product designers of his generation; his successor Tim Cook, a ruthless whip and supreme negotiator on the supply-side of the business.

Cook’s unenviable task as chief executive will be not to take the company in a new direction – that would be easy. The difficult part will be making it better.

THE NEW POWERS AT APPLE’S CORE

Now Steve Jobs has stepped down as chief executive he will be forced to take a back seat at the company he founded in a garage in 1972. The day-to-day pressures of running the world’s most valuable technology company will now fall to its top executives. Their every move will be scrutinised for signs that Jobs departure is the start of a slow decline. These are four of the most important board members who have Apple’s future in their hands.

TIM COOK – CHIEF EXECUTIVE
Tim Cook is now one of the world’s most influential executives. He is no stranger to the chief executive role, having covered for Jobs in 2004. The former IBM worker is known for his adept handling of Apple’s supply chain.

JONY IVE – HEAD OF DESIGN
The Essex-born designer is widely seen as one of the most talented product engineers of his generation. He joined Apple upon Jobs’ return in 1997 and is behind hit products including the iMac, iPod and iPad.

PHILIP SCHILLER – HEAD OF MARKETING
As Apple adjusts to life after Jobs, Schiller’s role as head of global product marketing will become even more vital. He joined Jobs in the 1997 revolution and has been one of the most recognisable faces at Apple.

JEFF WILLIAMS – VP OPERATIONS
Jeff Williams, a senior vice president, is most likely to take over from Tim Cook as chief operating officer. He has worked with Cook on some major supply chain deals and is seen as an Apple man through and through.

Twitter reaction

@TonyParsonsUK: Steve Jobs was the Leonardo da Vinci of our age. So thank you - without you, it would have all been ugly, difficult and dull.

@StephenFry: Terribly upset at the thought of Steve Jobs not feeling well enough to be CEO. Wishing him all the very very best…

@Lord_Sugar: Steve Jobs... Great visionary. Stay well Steve
#industrylegend

@JeffWeiner: It isn’t just Job's genius for innovation that will be missed -- it's his insight. He speaks the way he designs: not a single wasted word.

@Schwarzenegger: Steve Jobs is one of California’s greatest innovators. Very few achieved his impact over the last 50 years and probably the next 100