Can Apple survive without Steve Jobs?

Apple’s co-founder is arguably the most innovative and succesful turnaround artist and tech visionary in Silicon Valley, and rumours of illness following his appearance at WWDC last week saw dollars knocked off of Apple’s share price.

With a recent report claiming Apple’s iconic designer, Jonathan Ive, has purchased a mansion in the UK, and continued jitters at the health of the Apple CEO, company-watchers are beginning to ask if Apple has a succession strategy in place. The question is, if Jobs (or Ive, come to that) were to leave Apple, does the company already have the kind of visionary leader it requires to manage the consequences of the loss of their DNA?

One obvious response would be to promote current Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cook, to the CEO’s chair. Cook took the hot seat while Jobs was recovering from his life-saving cancer operation in 2004, but it’s not clear if Cook combines the ingredients required to offer the company the kind of leadership Jobs provides.

Speculation as to Apple’s succession plans isn’t new, of course – it is a regularly returned-to topic. And that we’re engaging in a little of this now doesn’t mean we think he’s ill again – but the question remains valid all the same.

What does Jobs think? Well, he appears pretty confident in his executive team, telling Fortune earlier this year: "We’ve got really capable people at Apple. I made Tim Cook COO and gave him the Mac division and he’s done brilliantly…

"I mean, some people say, ‘Oh God, if Jobs got run over by a bus, Apple would be in trouble." And, you know, I think it wouldn’t be a party but there are really capable people at Apple. And the board would have some good choices about who to pick as CEO. My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that’s what I try to do."

So who is on Apple’s executive team right now? We’ve mentioned Jobs, Cook and Ive, but the there’s nine more names to know: 

  • Daniel Cooperman (General Counsel and Secretary);
  • Tony Fadell (senior vice president, iPod division); 
  • Scott Forstall (Senior VP,iPhone software, newly-promoted); 
  • Ron Johnson (Senior VP Retail); 
  • Bob Mansfield (newly-promoted senior VP Mac Hardware Engineering); 
  • Peter Oppenheimer (CFO); 
  • Phil Schiller (Worldwide Product Marketing chief);
  • Bertrand Serlet (Senior VP Software Engineering)
  • Sina Tamaddon (senior VP Applications).

We’re not about to pick through the reputations of each of Apple’s senior executive team, but we would like to note that the iPod itself was originally dreamed-up by Tony Fadell (though executed and improved upon with help from Jobs and Ive); and we note Scott Forstall as a man to watch, with arguably the most important role at Apple, caring for the development of a brand new computing platform.

9to5Mac Picks:

Andy: Ive could be a spiritual leader, but I’m not sure he’s the man for the CEO chair, he’s inspired, and inspiring, but to be really honest, the one of the lot of them that has managed the most charismatic public speech in my experience is Ron Johnson. Whatever the outcome, Cook would take on a wider operational role, so it needs a visionary people feel respect and trust for.

Cleve: Forstall is the man if SJ gets to pick.  If something extraordinary happens, the board might go with a safer choice like Tim Cook.  Ive doesn’t want the job.  Ron Johnson is my outside choice

Quincy: Cook if SJ leaves in the next few Years.  Forstall if SJ stays for at least another 3-4

Chauncey: Ron Johnson is the underdog.  Ive, very little shot.  Forstall is too techie. Tim Cook is the man to beat.  Phil Schiller?

Seth:  For me it is a 3 horse race.  Tim Cook is out in front but at steady pace.  Phil Schiller is moving up…. but here comes Forstall!  The only question is where is the finish line.  Oh, Ron Johnson and Ive are watching from the stands.

Who of the existing team do you think could lead Apple Inc.?


Oh, and then there is Cramer.. Our Favorite: “After Edison, it was over.” Um, GE is still around and doing OK I think?

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news:

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel

About the Author