Apples are special to mankind. They are both the reason why women ‘with pain will give birth to children’ or why three regular chocolate cake helpings make each breath harder to draw. It also makes it difficult to explain to your kids why an ounce of feathers is as heavy as an ounce of lead. Try for yourself!
One bad apple recently spoiled the whole bunch again. Steve is sick for the third time and the Apple community – which dramatically expanded since the Mac thanks to the iPod, iPhone and iPad – is in disarray. The stock went down by more than 8% in some places.
Apple has got quite a strange history and so does its founder. What is surprising is the company that gave Jobs the boot in 1985 to rehire him via an acquisition in 1996 and saw him on a sick leave not just once, but twice, never planned a proper . And quite unfortunately for Steve, although his first disease was dubbed a curable one, the idea of a relapse was always a blipping dot on the radar.
Quite unfortunately for Steve, yes. And for the world as well, which seems to love being iJacked. And for Apple, too, the company whose stock price obviously keeps demonstrating the principle of gravity for one single reason: “Jobs’s too good”. Or too bad, since the iCone (that he seems to slowly become keynote after keynote 😉 ) appears in the total incapacity to build a viable succession plan. Or to share the spotlights.
What could be the reason can only be guessed: pride? High expectations? Romanticism? The only sure thing is that Jobs, despite his quite moving and inspiring speech at Standford, has issues proceeding with the next step in the True Leader handbook: grooming Mr Right Successor.
Beyond a dropping share price and ensuing difficulties to finance (as well as to incentivize the board!), consequences are difficult for the company: disorganization, best talents jumping off the ship – always the first to leave! – and innovation, polished marketing and sales pitches, exclusive image and that je-ne-sais-quoi that once defined Apple and took so many years to build, going down the drain. Because one man could not find his spiritual heir to head the ship.
The key manager syndrome is more present in our environment than we think. One loves the concept of being irreplaceable: such an acknowledgement! And by definition, “there will always be time”. Yes, right: by definition time is gone.
The percentage of successful succession plans – ie: the number of decisions made in a succession plan that are actually implemented once the event occurs – is usually low, more often than not lower than 10%. This failure comes with a severe cost: every one wants to have a say in the (sometimes in-) famous “people review” decisions that is often viewed as one of the most prestigious HR (as well as managerial) acts: “I shall say who may replace whom, who is ready for a given career path and who is not”. Tickling sensations of power…
Such a poor implementation would have had the manager of a product or project review fired by the following Thursday, yet as soon as we start talking about people, “companies’ most precious assets” HR and leadership teams get away with it with a smile. Mankind is amazing…. You cannot believe it? Apple repeated not just once but twice the original mistake: fail to identify and groom the relevant leaders (plural!).
The solution is not to drop the succession planning process altogether and let the baby go down the pipes with the bath water. It is just to start implementing decisions and consider succession plans for what they are: the anti-collision plan a company needs to develop to face rough times. Thumbs up Bill Gates for bringing up Steve Ballmer, whatever one thinks of the character. Steve is reassuring enough to keep the ship staffed and afloat. Yes, maybe is Microsoft a bit less inventive. But they’re still there. Whereas Apple without any consideration to the next generation of leaders – it might be too late already – will dry, wrinkle, shrink and die forgotten until the idea of it disappears in its turn as well.
It took a couple of months to Apple to actually come up with a list – a list! – of successors. On February 23rd of the year of our Good Lord 2011- it was about time! – the firm started naming a list of prospective CEOs. Along with the worn-out name of Eric Schmidt, future-ex-Googler, are considered Tim Cook who is the current acting CEO, Phil Shiller and Jonathan Ive – how surprising: the marketing and the designer internal guys – as well as Jon Rubinstein, ex-Apple now HP. The real surprising is the re-surfacing of Steve Wozniak. The Woz: a real strategy or the “rubbish idea that sounded good at the time”? Or worse: maybe it is the substitute the only value of is to stand as a make-believe to reassure the addicts. “Couldn’t get Elvis but his manager is on the line”? The simple status of this list shows how much the company is in disarray.
What to think of such a leader who fails so dramatically to have a succession plan setup? Probably that he thinks more of himself than of the company he thinks of. When the company’s value is summarized to the presence or vacancy of a key man, surely the manager’s job is not done. It has a strange Pharaoh-Hosni-Mobarakish feel to it: “I am Egypt”. “I am Apple”. Poor management, poor manager who will get the company down the drain by his sole doing, no matter how high he previously took it, and not just once. In the absence of a successor, this apple is seedless.