It’s a cliché. No one is bigger than the team. But, in the case of Apple, it’s the other way round. No one is bigger than Steve. And when Steve goes… Let’s look at how Apple is creating a Succession Plan for Steve Jobs and what mistakes it needs to avoid.
photo credit: mauritsonline
How to Phase out Steve Jobs
Younger readers may not remember what happened the last time Steve Jobs left. Actually he was fired. Yes, Apple fired Jobs even though he’s built the Mac.
Momentum continued for a while and then Apple sank.
A guy from Coke took over (Coke?) and the company floundered. Jobs had rebuild his reputation with Pixar and, threw gritted teeth, Apple persuaded him to come back.
You know the story.
iMac, iPod, , iPad… the hits keep coming.
Think of a Job-less Apple
Although Apple’s succession plan for Jobs remains unclear, Wharton University outlined some ways to help guide Apple’s succession planning process.
‘Apple has a strong bench of executives who could succeed Jobs, but major stakeholders, such as investors, customers and partners, don’t know much about them, according to Wharton faculty. The first step in any succession plan may be illustrating that Apple is more than Jobs.’
But is it?
And this dilemma faces any organization where the destiny of the company stems from the (usually) founder’s force of personality rather than the quality of its products.
In Apple’s case, both compliment each other, or at least for now.
Companies whose CEOs are synonymous with the brand create issues for future leaders.
For an investor, this raises issues as it does for employees. And for those of us who run a business, defining a Succession Plan is often the hardest part of ensuring it survives.
- Richard Branson
- Larry Ellison
- Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United
But here’s the problem. Once you take these folks out of the equation, what’s left? Can you imagine Virgin without Branson in charge?
It’s like taking Mick Jagger out of the Rolling Stones or Bono from U2. In the public’s eye, they are the brand.
The Star Coach Who Won’t Go Away
You also see this in sports.
A star coach takes his team to title after title but then age catches up with him. Or, seeing that his squad is fading, steps down before they slide down the table.
The problem is he won’t go away.
- You see him on TV dissecting the new coach’s mistakes.
- His column in the newspaper wags a finger at the players for lacking ‘spirit’. It’s never positive, just a drip-drip of criticism
- Or worse…he gets a seat on the board and spends his time haunting the corridors, drumming up support, under-mining the new guy.
How to Retire the Boss
If you have to retire the boss:
- Set a date when he/she is to retire.
- Tell those that need to know (you may not be able to inform the frontline staff at this point) but let the senior members of your team know.
- When you’re ready, tell the staff, partners and customers. Show them that there is a succession plan in place and that this is Phase 1.
- When you retire the Boss, find him a room in another building. He or She cannot be in the same building as the new person. This leaves the new person open to all type of rear-guard attacks. Staff loyalty will be tested. Avoid this by keeping the former Boss off the floor as much as possible.
- Make sure the staff understand that there is a changing of the guard. The new guy is the boss.
- Get the new guy walk the floor. Meet people. Let them see him in the flesh. Emails don’t work.
- Repeat until the staff ‘feel’ the difference.
Succession Plans Can Make or Break You
They say that fortunes come and go in three generations.
Once your business starts to succeed – you have a regular supply of customers and healthy sales – do the following:
- Look for signs that your CEO is becoming bigger than the business. When others talk about your company, they talk about him or her, not your products.
- See how this person could be phased out over the next 24-36 months.
- Define the criteria for choosing the next candidate. Will it be internal, as GE do it, or someone with new ideas?
- Will you keep it in the family like Rupert Murdock or Hugh Hefner has. Weight up the options and put the wheels in motion.
The Last word goes to…Microsoft
Kendall Whitehouse, senior director of IT at Wharton, remind us that “Microsoft had been about Gates for so long. But he scheduled a long, phased wind down. You can see the way that the succession was comfortable for the company, customers and shareholders,”
The same article note that, ‘After a decade of leading Apple, he argues that it’s quite possible Jobs’s imprint is permanently etched on the company. “No one could move up in the organization without Jobs’s approval. Eventually, management fits the mold Jobs wants.”
Over to you.
What’s next for Apple?