Will Apple Sputter When It Runs Out of Jobs Juice?
Apr 27, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Without Steve Jobs, Apple will fall from greatness, according to Forrester Research CEO George Colony.
"Apple's momentum will carry it for 24-48 months," he wrote recently in his blog, "The Counterintuitive CEO."
"But without the arrival of a new charismatic leader," he continued, "it will move from being a great company to being a good company, with a commensurate step down in revenue growth and product innovation."
"Like Sony (post Morita), Polaroid (post Land), Apple circa 1985 (post Jobs), and Disney (in the 20 years post Walt Disney), Apple will coast, and then decelerate," he contended.
Sociology's Steve Jobs
Colony's case for Apple's decline is founded on an analysis of the structure of organizations by Max Weber, who is to sociology what Jobs was to Apple.
In Weber's 1947 book The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations, he identified three types of organizations: the legal/bureaucratic, the traditional and the charismatic.
Apple, under Jobs, fits into the charismatic category, Colony argues. Leaders of charismatic organizations have the "gift of grace." Their followers trust them absolutely, and they feed off the leader's access to near magical powers.
"In charismatic organizations, the magical leader must be succeeded by another charismatic -- the emotional connection of employees and (in the case of Apple) customers demands it," Colony wrote.
"Apple has chosen a proven and competent executive to succeed Jobs." he continued. "But his legal/bureaucratic approach will prove to be a mismatch for an organization that feeds off the gift of grace."
A Singular Company
While Weber's analysis isn't irrelevant today, it doesn't apply to Jobs or Apple, countered Ben Bajarin, director of consumer technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies.
He cited Jobs' involvement with Pixar as an example of how he could put his charismatic stamp on a company's culture and have that company succeed after leaving it.
"After he left, it continued to thrive, flourish and innovate," he told MacNewsWorld.
"He did that in Apple, too," he added. "He created a culture of people and innovation that really isn't seen elsewhere in the industry."
Colony's analysis presumes that Apple is like other companies, Bajarin maintained. "I don't think that's true," he said.
Apple's vertical integration of hardware, software and services is unparalleled in the industry, he explained. "Those fundamentals don't go away just because someone is not with us anymore," he added.
Companies can succeed after their charismatic leaders pass on, noted Carl Howe, research director for the Yankee Group.
"IBM was founded by a charismatic leader, Thomas J. Watson, yet it reached the heights of its business dominance long after he was dead," he told MacNewsWorld.
"The same could be said for Disney being led by Walt Disney," he added. "I don't doubt that Apple will reach similarly higher heights in the post-Jobsian era."
Although Weber argued that charismatic organizations require their charismatic leader be replaced by another charismatic leader, that's not necessarily a prescription for success, according to James Post, a professor of management markets, public policy and law at Boston University.
Right Man for the Times
As times change, so does what a company needs in a CEO, he explained. "Apple's board has decided that Tim Cook meets the needs of the times," he told MacNewsWorld.
"Tim Cook has a lot of the same kind of commitment as Steve Jobs but a different set of skills and a different style of leadership," he said.
What's more, the followers of charismatic leader Jobs appear to be enthused with their new chief. "People are showing that they're happy to have Cook as a leader," Post observed.
"Is he as charismatic as Steve Jobs?" he continued. "Not in the same ways. But he's proving to be an effective leader of the people at Apple."