If Steve Jobs’ recent medical ailments prove to be more serious than were previously divulged in his email to employees—an email surfacing (big surprise) online a few days ago—one has to speculate, will Steve Jobs be returning anytime soon?—if ever?
When the phrase ‘medical leave of absence’ is mentioned in the same breath as Steve Jobs and Apple, naturally shareholders have become a tad queasy and Wall Street, not historically receptive to uncertainty, has responded as expected.
It appears no one can seem to fathom an Apple Inc. without Steve Jobs at the helm. Critics would likely muse Jobs’ unique persona is behind every Apple product to hit the market over the past decade. While there are, at the same time, unquestionably thousands of other product concepts never to see the light of day, unable to pass Jobs’ critical eye and unwavering desire to be truly different among competitor offerings.
But the handful of products that do ultimately reach consumers are quite often bold, technologically innovative, even radically game-changing in terms of their design, execution, and potential application.
In fact much of Apple’s success over the past 13 years can be directly attributed to Steve Jobs’ influence and keen eye for design. Most notably during Apple’s renaissance period (1998-2001) when Jobs became instrumental in transforming the once struggling company into a profit-wielding beacon of innovation—now a company with unparalleled brand loyalty.
So, as Apple embarks on its next chapter and a future without Steve Jobs as the consummate showman and visionary leader, the thought of who will take his place long-term becomes a very compelling question.
Among the front runner candidates: Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Steve Wozniak, even Eric Schmidt’s name has been mentioned in light of his recent departure from Google. However, the most qualified individual could very well be right under Steve Jobs’ nose: Jonathan Ive, Apple’s current Senior Vice President of Industrial Design.
No one distills the Apple mantra or speaks better to the power of design to differentiate than Ive. As one of the world’s most design-oriented companies Apple derives 50% of its total revenues from products that were not in existence 4 years ago (source). In this sense Apple has, in effect, become synonymous with innovation and industry leading product development. With this in mind, who better to lead than Jonathan Ive, Apple’s master of design and product development.
Jonathan Ive has been called Apple’s man behind the curtain, a man some would say is closest to Steve Jobs’ sensibilities. Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs explains in an interview with The Street that Ive has a proven track record for innovation and is a big reason why Steve Jobs [and Apple] have been so successful over the years:
“A lot of people forget that the principle person behind the iPod is the head of design, Jonathan Ive. He was working for Apple when Steve Jobs was absent during that time in the late 1980s and 1990s. When Steve Jobs returned he recognized his talents. So Steve Jobs surrounds himself with the best people, obviously those people that will continue to work with Apple even after Steve Jobs moves on to his next step, whatever that may be.”
I for one could not imagine anyone else besides Jonathan Ive and his characteristic navy blue t-shirt and jeans walking out on stage at the annual WWDC to show us what’s new and exciting at Apple. The only question is, does Jonathan Ive want the job?