retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

It was inevitable, and yet still somehow shocking yesterday when Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc., announced yesterday that he was resigning, effective immediately. While it was not stated overtly, it is presumed that Jobs’ continuing health problems - he had surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004, a liver transplant in 2009, and has had three medical leaves - led to his decision to step down.

Jobs, who has been on medical leave since earlier this year, will remain as chairman of the board. Tim Cook, Apple’s longtime COO, steps into the CEO’s position.

It is almost impossible to overstate Jobs’ impact on the technology industry, consumer behavior, retailing, and even popular culture. From personal computers to iPods to iPhones to iPads, marketed so effectively by the company’s iconic Apple Stores, and from Pixar’s motion pictures to iTunes’ streaming technology, Jobs and Apple have gone from being a company in decline to one that has become an arbiter of taste....often deciding, as Jobs famously has said, what consumers want even before consumers know it. To this point, Apple has sold more than 314 million iPods, 129 million iPhones and 29 million iPads ... and there is constant speculation about the next iPhone (probably to be announced next month), the next iPad, and the next....well, who knows?

In his resignation letter, signed simply “Steve,” Jobs wrote:

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

“I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

“As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

“I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

“I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.”

Needless to say, there is much speculation about Apple’s future - not so much about whether it can survive without Jobs, but whether it is capable of the risk-taking, design-centric, consumer-driven innovation that has defined it, especially over the past decade. The immediate future seems assured - experts say that there are new and improved products in the pipeline that should take the company through the next 18-24 months. And some have joked that Jobs probably has sketched out design and functional improvements for the iPad 20. (We’re currently on the iPad 2.)

It is all a question of DNA, and whether Jobs - as part of his mission - has infused Apple with the right people, the right attitudes, and the right vision to help the company thrive over the next decade and beyond. As one expert is quoted as saying in this morning’s papers, it is hard to imagine that Apple will be better without the finicky and demanding Jobs in the CEO position; but it is possible that, if Jobs has done his job right, that it will be almost as good.

It’ll be interesting to watch. Our eyes will be wide open. Don’t start writing the obituaries yet.
KC's View: