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Perimeter

12/31/2008
02:50 PM
Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
Commentary
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Apple Without Jobs: Who Secures A Company's Heart?

Very often a founder is the heart of a unique, successful company, or in the case of IBM it was actually the son of the founder, Thomas Watson Jr. All the focus this week on the likely departure of Steve Jobs from Apple has me thinking back about one of my very first jobs at Disney shortly after Walt died. In many ways these men embodied more than their companies' brands: They embodied a way of thinking about business that wasn't defined in dollars and cents; it was defined by imagination, carin

Very often a founder is the heart of a unique, successful company, or in the case of IBM it was actually the son of the founder, Thomas Watson Jr. All the focus this week on the likely departure of Steve Jobs from Apple has me thinking back about one of my very first jobs at Disney shortly after Walt died. In many ways these men embodied more than their companies' brands: They embodied a way of thinking about business that wasn't defined in dollars and cents; it was defined by imagination, caring about more important things, and often in the unique work environments they created.

There is a unique magic to the firm that is lost when someone like Steve Jobs leaves. If this magic is critical to the company's identity, success, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, why isn't more done to protect it and ensure that it never leaves?Remembering Disney

When Walt left, the magic left Disney. If you look at the post-Walt Disney movies, particularly the animated tales, you can see fewer and fewer which were as memorable as those that Walt oversaw. The movies carried over into the parks (or at the time park, because Disney World was not yet complete when he died), and there were amazingly strong connections between both. The trains and monorails were a reflection of Walt's love for these, and much of his eventual dream for the parks and the world had to do with driving future trains more broadly.

After he left, it seemed like the dreams died with him, the properties became more economically focused and, strangely enough, less successful and powerful. Part of what drove the economic success of the Disney franchise was the magic of it, and by increasingly bringing in bean counters and professional managers, reality forced out the magic and the result was something less than it was.

Anticipating Apple

Steve Jobs is much of the heart of Apple. It is his vision and need for excellence that has created products that often define their categories, like the iPhone and the iPod. His strategies are unique as well: Tricking Hewlett-Packard into not going into the MP3 player space until it was too late to enter and his fight with Cisco over the iPhone name were both successes in areas most other companies wouldn't have tried believing the actual result was impossible.

The loyalty that Apple enjoys and the magic of its products, which exceed the reality of them, in many ways is similar to the magic Disney once had, and it's also tied solidly back to Jobs. It's interesting to note that Disney, in an effort to get some of this imagination and magic back, acquired a Jobs property, Pixar, a few years back.

In the end, though, I'm not aware of a single company that even truly tried to keep the magic that a founder once imparted to it.

Who Protects the Heart of a Company?

This leads me to a question. If we agree that some companies have aspects that go beyond their brands and products, like Disney once had and Apple currently enjoys, who protects this intangible but incredibly important asset?

When Jobs last left Apple, the company dropped into a slow decline. His return barely prevented its complete collapse, suggesting that something he brought with him was critical to Apple's survival and the very real likelihood that when he leaves that something, its heart or magic, will leave with him.

This is the one critical aspect of a company that security can't protect, at least not indefinitely, and yet it's the one aspect of a firm that virtually every employee will miss when it's gone. It may even be critical to the company's survival but certainly is critical to its current identity.

In every company there are those that embody concepts that go beyond products and financial performance. In IBM's case, it was actually the son of the founder who was the most successful showcasing that this can transcend generations.

At some point, we should consider that the heart of a company is a critical asset and create a way to make sure one like Apple, which has an aspect of magic to it, never loses its heart.

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