Out The media fascination with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs reached a new high on news of his August 2011 resignation as CEO. Apple is doomed, cried many. It’s business as usual, calmed others. But Steve has resigned before – and then he left the company altogether (he remains as chairman today, although in poor health). What was the outcry then? Not so different, but certainly less affectionate.
In 1985, just a year after the revolutionary launch of the Macintosh itself, Steve Jobs found himself clearing his desk at Apple’s Cupertino HQ. Into the hemp bag went his signed photo of Woz, Mont Blanc pen and worn-out ‘You’re Fired!’ rubber stamp. Jobs had been forced out of the company he’d founded after a power struggle with John Sculley, the Pepsi marketing whizz he’d recruited as CEO to turn Apple into the first true consumer computer brand. When news reached Sculley that Jobs was planning a coup, he acted fast – forcing Steve into the non-operational role as company chairman.
“There is no role for Steve Jobs in the running of this company either today or in the future. But there is a role for Steve Jobs as chairman of the board,” said Sculley, smiting his old pal. Sensing defeat, Steve got the hump and resigned, taking a small crew of Apple staff with him to go off and form his next company, simply called NeXT.
”We have the foundations in place for a really great Apple,” said the victorious Sculley. ”We talk about vision and what Steve contributed to vision, and it’s an immense contribution, no doubt about it.”
”Computers were big boring blue boxes until Steve Jobs came along,” Sculley continued his measured praise. “And Apple will continue to be driven by the same vision of making computers for the individual in a youth-oriented company. But people tend to confuse vision with innovation. The real question is innovation, and most of the innovation, including the innovations in Macintosh, came from a lot of people.”
“Steve’s great contribution was recognising that computers were tools for individuals and not large blue boxes for institutions. That doesn’t change, whether Steve is here or not.”
Fast forward 26 years to the first statement by Jobs’ successor as CEO, Tim Cook:
“Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values. Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that – it is in our DNA. I am looking forward to the amazing opportunity of serving as CEO of the most innovative company in the world. Steve has been an incredible leader and mentor to me, as well as to the entire executive team and our amazing employees.”
And just like this time the press got very excited by Steve’s 1985 jump. The Miami News quoted top people at Apple saying “We have put our individual egos aside and are putting teamwork in place”.
InfoWorld’s Kevin Strehlo believed “the shuffle could aid Apple... Apple is making the transition from one phase of its life to the next. I don’t know that the image of a leader clad in a bow tie, jeans, and suspenders would help us survive in the coming years.”
(It should be noted here that Kevin here is using the US definition of suspenders as trouser braces!)
Apple executive vice president William V Campbell was quoted in The New York Times: “We’ve been without Steve Jobs for the better part of four months. Since that time we’ve been doing just fine.”
But NYT writer Andrew Pollack urged caution in the post-Jobs celebrations: “Apple, while having a solid management, still might miss Mr Jobs. Some analysts and former employees are worried that Apple is losing its spark and becoming stodgy, a process some refer to as ‘Scullification’”.
He could have be writing 26 years later when he noted: “Product direction for the next six months to a year is already fairly well set. But problems could arise in a year or two, when the time comes to develop completely new products. Analysts and company officials say that Jobs lent a certain creative spark and vision to Apple.”
Writing in Fortune magazine Bro Uttal quoted one of the Apple insiders shocked by Steve’s removal: ”They’ve cut the heart out of Apple and substituted an artificial one. We’ll just have to see how long it pumps.”
Uttal, too, was concerned for a Jobs-less Apple: “What Apple must do is hold together and carry out the latest product and marketing plans. To remain a strong contender in the long run, the company will also need the kinds of breakthrough products to which Jobs is devoted. If he does leave, the company will lose a champion of innovation, a foe of bureaucracy, and a priceless proselytiser to the rest of the world.”
Even more on the money was Washington Post writer TR Reid: “The directors of Apple have made an outrageous and potentially fatal blunder in taking their company away from the founding father then turning it over to a generic marketing man. The computer industry is littered with the corpses of promising companies that were managed into oblivion by marketing ‘experts’ who had no particular feel for silicon and software.
“The distinguishing thing about Steven Jobs is that he has a vision, a pervasive philosophy, about the role of personal computers in modern life. Over the long haul, Apple sans Steven Jobs is not going to be a pretty sight.”
It wasn’t, but Steve came back 11 years later to save Apple. That won’t happen this time round, but we hope Cook is right about the Jobs DNA being fully absorbed into the company he dreamed up, led, left, rescued and took to the very top of the technology tree.