Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

What Happens Next at Apple?

Two things will happen tomorrow in the wake of today’s news that Steve Jobs has resigned as the CEO of Apple.

First, Apple investors will freak out.

Second, Apple will do what Apple has planned to do for all these years.

For years, since Jobs’s first bout with pancreatic cancer was disclosed, Apple has taken a lot of criticism from analysts, shareholders, activists and tech and business columnists on the subject of succession planning. The main complaint has always revolved around the fact that Apple seemed not to have a plan for the day that Jobs would cede the helm either by choice or happenstance.

The fact is that Apple does have a plan, and chose, I think wisely, to keep most of the details related to it confidential. On the very last page of Apple’s Corporate Governance Guidelines (PDF here) you find that the company designates its compensation committee, a subset of its board of directors, as the body responsible for succession planning.

Here’s what the text says (emphasis mine):

XIX. Management Review and Succession Planning
The Compensation Committee should conduct, and review with the Board, an annual evaluation of the performance of all executive officers, including the CEO. The Compensation Committee is expected to use this review in the course of its deliberations when considering the compensation of the CEO and senior management. The Board also reviews the CEO performance evaluation to ensure that the CEO is providing effective leadership of the Corporation. As part of the annual evaluation, the Board and the CEO should conduct an annual review of management development and succession planning for senior management, including the CEO.

And for the record, the members of the compensation committee are as follows: Millard Drexler, the chairman and CEO of retailer J. Crew; Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States; and Andrea Jung, the CEO of Avon, is the committee’s chair.

All of them, Gore especially, know a little something on the subject of succession planning. Yet the market has over the years generally assumed that Apple has had no plan for a post-Jobs Apple.

Expect that assumption to be the order of the day when the markets open tomorrow. Apple shares have already taken a 5 percent hit, dropping $19.08 in after-hours trading tonight, and you can bet that’s just a precursor for what’s coming tomorrow. Over the coming days, the so-called “Jobs premium” will be erased.

So what happens next? First off, tomorrow will be Tim Cook’s first day as CEO — not acting CEO, but as the actual CEO of Apple. Long credited as the man who brilliantly runs Apple day to day, he’s now in charge.

And that’s an encouraging thought. Formally designated Apple’s number two in 2005, he has overseen it during its most exciting and world-changing years. On his first business day as COO, Apple shares closed at $54. Today before the news broke, it closed at nearly seven times that price.

During those years Apple has largely remade much of the world around it: Music, media, communications are all indelibly and fundamentally different because of the work that has come out of Apple during this six-year period. To assume that this stops because Steve Jobs doesn’t show up at the office tomorrow or next week is failing to understand the Apple way.

If you follow Apple long enough, you know that Apple has a long-term vision. I think enough time has passed that I can share the following anecdote. In 2007, right after the introduction of the first iPhone, I attended a meeting with Jobs and the editors of the magazine I was working for at the time.

The meeting included a Jobs-led, hands-on demo with prototype iPhones, during which I asked Jobs a question: “Will you do a version of this without the phone?” The answer — which surprised me that he even gave it — was yes. In that moment I got a very tiny glimpse of the long path that lay ahead. I could see way off in the distance the logical progression leading first to the iPod touch and from there to the iPad. It was a revelation.

And we all know exactly what the iPad is doing to the established order of the PC industry: It is tearing it down. Hewlett-Packard’s decision to get out of the PC business is just one very big and recent example of the degree of that change.

That in mind, I find it hard to accept the argument that there isn’t a similar long-term vision that Apple is executing on at this very moment. My suspicion has long been that a pipeline of products — some of them incremental improvements on existing ones, others radically new and disruptive — are in various stages of the design process. I think it is a safe bet that Apple’s strategic plans for the next five years are more or less mapped out. Beyond that, it’s harder to see, and circumstances can certainly change a great deal in that amount of time.

But consider where Apple was five years ago and what has happened since. Yes, the Apple story was interesting in 2005 and 2006, but who could have predicted that Apple would become the biggest company by market capitalization in the entire world, eclipsing ExxonMobil, if only for a few days.

Markets will do what markets must do. And so must Apple. The next phase of what has turned out to be the most interesting business story in living memory has begun.

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