Steve Jobs’s Finest Product–Apple–Won’t Break Down

Published on January 18, 2011
by John Paczkowski

It’s been said that Steve Jobs is Apple’s greatest asset and its greatest risk. And there’s no better illustration of that dictum than recent history.

The last time Jobs went on medical leave, in January of 2009, Apple shares tanked, falling some eight percent to $78.50. But in the months that followed, they rose more than 50 percent, despite continued concerns over his health. By the end of June, Jobs was back at work. By September he was appearing onstage at Apple events.

Then came the iPad. And the iPhone 4. By October of 2010 the company’s shares had risen above $300 for the first time ever. And today they stand at $348.48.

In the end, Apple really didn’t miss a beat the last time Jobs stepped away to focus on his health, despite all the hysterical speculation that it might. And it’s not likely to this time, either — regardless of the open-ended nature of his leave and what some folks are describing as a “less optimistic” tone in his message to employees.

“Steve Jobs’s third medical leave raises the possibility, however remote, that he may not return to Apple,” Needham analyst Charlie Wolf told me this morning. “Jobs’s absence should have no measurable impact on Apple’s financial performance for several years, if ever. It took John Sculley, arguably one of the worst managers in the country’s history, three years to erase Jobs’s legacy in the 1980s. Today, starting with Tim Cook, Apple has one of the deepest and strongest managerial benches in this country. Tim Cook has matured into one of the leading managers in this country (see video below). However, no one can replace Steve Jobs, arguably the leading innovator in the past century, beginning with the Mac, then the iPod, iPhone and iPad in the past decade. What Apple loses in Jobs’s absence is the opportunity and ability to disrupt and redefine still other industries.”

Charlie’s point is a good one, though I disagree that Apple risks losing its ability to disrupt and redefine in Jobs’s absence. I think that Jobs baked those things into the company, its culture and executive leadership long ago. In fact, one could argue that it’s Apple, not the iPhone or iPad, that is Jobs’s masterpiece product, a company designed to set the bar for the industry, regardless of whether it’s him leading its day-to-day operations or not.

Below, Tim Cook speaks at Auburn University’s spring 2010 commencement.


Return to: Steve Jobs’s Finest Product–Apple–Won’t Break Down