Sometimes life can get too comfortable. When things are going too smoothly, a little shake up to keep people on their toes is quite refreshing. Apple and the word ‘beleaguered’ were once bedfellows. Now it’s a model company with a stable and profitable business. It might not be grabbing huge chunks of market share, but it sits comfortably in its niche. The reason for this stability is to a great extent due to the visionary leadership of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs, the prodigal CEO… what would we do without him?
Actually, there are rumours that Steve Jobs is being primed to take over from Michael Eisner when he departs Disney in the next couple of years. I don’t really worry about rumours unless there’s some evidence that they’re true – and this one, as far as I can see, has none.
However, it’s a timely reminder that the world’s favourite CEO (according to Forbes), is a valuable asset to Apple – and in theory, to any other company. Thank goodness for Steve’s hippy roots, or he’d probably be evangelizing for Halliburton or Philip Morris. But it would be understandable for onlookers from corporate America to want a little of what Steve has, especially if they’re standing in the famous Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. There are quite a few companies that are bigger than Apple in the US, and Steve Jobs running one would certainly be a big deal for the right corporation.
Granted, there are only a few companies that would actually fit with Steve’s background and skill set. Having such a high-profile leader would overshadow most companies, and change public perception overnight. That isn’t always a good thing.
But we all love Steve… don’t we? OK, the Apple-buying public generally loves Steve – but that’s us, not your average corporate salaryman. If Steve Jobs was put in charge of General Electric I’m sure it would do the company no good. Steve needs the right audience.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Steve already has another job at Pixar, though I can’t help thinking the staff there like the fact he’s so busy with Apple. But his success in the hazardous world of Hollywood negotiations means he’s also held in high regard in the entertainment business. Those folks love Steve, not just because he knows what he’s doing, but because he’s a celebrity CEO. If anybody knows the value of celebrity, it’s Hollywood – so any of the big studios would be happy to have such a major figurehead.
Top of the tree in that regard would surely be Disney. The saga of Disney and Apple goes back years. As long as ten years ago, rumours were regularly circulated that Disney wanted to buy Apple. I don’t think any real evidence of this was ever discovered, but the rumour bobbed around in the ether for years. Steve Jobs bought Pixar way back in 1986, and it was nine years before it got around to making Toy Story. By that time, Pixar had struck up a partnership deal with Disney for the distribution rights of Pixar movies.
The massive success of Toy Story and the Pixar movies that followed gave the company a much stronger hand in its negotiations with Disney. This made it difficult for Michael Eisner, the current CEO of Disney, to negotiate an attractive deal with Steve. A few months ago, Eisner must have tried playing hardball a little too vigorously with Jobs. Steve simply ended the distribution agreement with Disney – a massive slap in the face for the already struggling Eisner, and a potentially disastrous outcome for Disney.
The success of the Pixar movies had been a big boost to Disney’s fortunes; losing it to a rival would be something it could well do without. In seemed at the time to be the final nail in Eisner’s coffin, but he’s still hanging on… for now.
Getting Steve to take the place of Eisner would solve that problem in one fell swoop – and I’m sure Disney would be more than generous if Steve wanted to take up the challenge. Of course, that would leave Apple in a bit of an awkward position. Steve is doing remarkably well running two major companies, but running Pixar, Disney and Apple all at once would stretch even him. Something’s got to give.
Apple without Steve would be a bad place to be; it floundered without him. Whether or not all the credit should go to Steve for Apple’s success I don’t know. You could try to put it down to him being there at the right time. But I think he is a major reason for its success at least in his second term as CEO. The scariest thing about getting Steve Jobs as a CEO could be trying to replace him when he leaves. Luckily Steve isn’t in the habit of leaving companies. He was forced out of Apple the first time, but he never left his other two companies, Pixar and NeXT. Nobody but Apple has ever had the problem of what to do post-Steve, and I doubt if they learnt any lessons from the first time.
I’m sure that if there are any behind-the-scenes negotiations between Steve and Disney, it would be interesting to him. While it might appeal to his vanity, the actual reality of leaving Apple behind a second time seems less appealing. Steve is the undisputed star of the show right now, and giving that up to risk a new job that might mean failure and humiliation seems a big leap. But the rewards could be even bigger.
So here’s the deal: you’re the most popular CEO of the coolest company in the world. You have as much money as a hippy could ever want. You have another company that makes some of the most popular movies in the world. You have a $40,000,000 Gulfstream V jet, and you have a wife and kids. Where does it all end? Do you give up the stability of this life to join the Hollywood rat-race? What would be in it for you?
I just can’t see Steve leaving his beloved Apple, his nice safe Silicon Valley home, and the high status of a job he knows he’s the best at. He just doesn’t need any risks in his life right now. He’s taken plenty: some he lost, but most he’s won. He’ll be 50 next year.
If I were Steve, I’d be thinking more about retirement than taking the Hollywood option. Unless somebody was suggesting I should be President… that might be worth getting out of bed for. MW