RIP Steve Jobs

There is much talk about Steve Job’s being a creative genius and digital visionary, the impact he had almost single-handedly on how we consume personal media. His use of design in both product development and user experience. We are also being reminded of Apple’s cult-like customer fan following that routinely spends days and nights camping on streets outside Apple stores, all around the world – just to be the first to get their hands on the next Apple product, and often just for the new version of an existing product. Nobody will dispute any of this…

Today, I walked by an Apple store and was shocked to see a makeshift memorial. There was a wall being created outside against the glass facade with flowers, cards, candles, pictures, clever manipulations of old Apple ads and dozens of post-it notes that people were handwriting while they stood and paid their last respects to Steve Jobs; like he was a close personal family member! He was the CEO of a company, a corporate executive, not a pop-star, a princess or a movie star – I was amazed.

I knew Job’s was a great showman and presenter but it’s one thing to admire a CEO or captain of industry and quite another for makeshift memorials to start popping up outside Apple retail stores all over the world on news of his death. I saw people standing silently, some looked like they were praying and most were writing a personal note and sticking it on the glass that made up the front of the store. It was not teenagers who were flocking but people in their late fifties and sixties who made up the majority coming to pay and post their last respects to the “genius who changed their life forever.” I am not sure if this happened when George Eastman or Henry Ford died but I cannot imagine any other corporate executive, no matter the extent of his genius, being lauded in this way.

In the end it is a testament not only to the brand that Jobs built but the products he delivered in creating this unbelievable emotional bond with customers. Apple is made up of his DNA and is a part of him. No compromise. Pure design cannot carry the day alone, great advertising and marketing only get you so far, and pure showmanship runs thin if the products don’t deliver – in the end Apple products have delivered time and again, and in the odd instance when one does not, Apple replaces it or fixes it for free; no questions asked. Therein lies the secret of turning a loyal customer into an evangelist for life.

Will the #Apple fall far from the tree?

First, I want to wish Steve Jobs the best and hope his health improves.

I guess we all knew this day would come. The board, the shareholders, the employees, the analysts and the evangelists; it’s just that we had all hoped it would be much, much later.

Whether you are a fan of Steve Jobs or not, what nobody can dispute is the fact that he single-handedly turned a fledgling company and tired brand into the world’s most envied and admired; one that is now on a path to become the world’s first trillion dollar company. However, what is most fascinating about the Apple story is how he achieved this. His vision, passion and workaholic nature are well-known but Jobs took this to another level entirely. It is said that he was involved in every decision right down to determining the type of wire that will secure MacBook’s in the Apple stores – that is both incredible and insane. Jobs’ is the only CEO I can think of who seems to go against conventional wisdom in every sense and still come out on top, every time. He is a classic example of someone who zigs, when everyone else is zagging.

Most CEO’s will tell you that the key to successfully growing your company, after you become a certain size, is to hire really smart people and then give them latitude to operate and a wide berth to do their jobs – and get out of the way. Not, like Jobs, remain involved in every minute decision; like what glass to use on the staircases of your retail stores. We know Job’s remained involved in every decision, even as Apple blew past Microsoft and Oracle to become the most valuable technology company on the planet.

Even more amazing is the fact that while the whole tech world seemed to acknowledge that the old Microsoft “proprietary” technology model was a failure and no longer sustainable in our new global ecosystem; filled with consumer demand and a need to constantly adapt and innovate in an open source way. So “open” has become the new buzzword for software development and management philosophies. Even companies like Procter & Gamble are now embracing this for rapid product prototyping, development and go-to-market strategies. On the other hand we have Apple who have created a completely closed and proprietary ecosystem for their products – and have been more successful than any other company. It is almost as if Steve Jobs’ philosophy and management style are completely counter-intuitive. This applies right down to the bets Jobs has made over the years. Like launching a tablet when everyone said that there was never going to be a market for a device that was not quite as small as a cellphone and not quite as powerful as a laptop; and we all know how that turned out.

We have been told that Apple has a very deep management bench and that may well be true but when a larger than life CEO like Steve Jobs vacates his position, he leaves a very rare and large hole in a company that few other leaders do.

So the 337 billion dollar question with Tim Cook is; how far will the Apple fall from the tree?