Opinion

Felix Salmon

Thanks, Steve

By Felix Salmon
August 24, 2011

It’s a sad day: only this morning I was reminiscing about my days exploring the Apple Macintosh in Palo Alto in 1984. Like much of the world right now, I’m reliving Steve Jobs’s greatest hits on YouTube, I’ve got a bit of a tear in my eye, and yet I can’t imagine how Jobs could possibly go out on a higher note than this.

Jobs took Xerox PARC’s ideas about what the personal computer could be and made them reality; he brought back Apple Computer from the brink of death to being the most valuable company in the world; he created a whole new class of electronic device, with the iPad; he even reinvented the telephone. And, of course, he’s still around, at least for the time being — he’ll stay on as Apple chairman (and, in one of the most touching parts of his resignation letter, as “Apple employee”).

So thank you, Steve, for everything you’ve done. You’ve relieved me of more money than I care to mention in public, and I don’t begrudge you a cent of it. In fact, even with the massive run-up in Apple’s share price over these past years, I’ve always been convinced that the best use of $1,000 or so has always been to buy an Apple computer, rather than Apple stock. The extra productivity conferred by the machine, I’m convinced, will give you a much better return on your money than any equity.

Here at Reuters, I made sure that I could work on a Mac before I accepted this job, and even though we’re standardized on PCs, you see Apples all over the company, up to and including the CEO’s office. None of that is going to change with Jobs’s departure as CEO. Does Apple still have an outsize personality who can slice away extraneous features on hardware, say no to the demands of the marketplace, and give us not what we think we want but what we never knew we wanted? I think it does: Jony Ive fits the bill quite nicely. And Apple’s amazing relations with its suppliers — the way that it can get chips and hardware into its devices that the rest of the world can’t get its hands on for any amount of money — is now baked in to the organization, rather than being reliant on a single man.

The formula, then, is clear. And with or without Jobs, Apple is, for the foreseeable future, going to coin simply astonishing amounts of money. It made $7.3 billion of profit just in the last quarter, on revenues of an almost unimaginable $28.6 billion. That makes Apple one of the most profitable companies the world has ever seen — and makes its stock look almost cheap, even at a market cap of $350 billion.

No one man can be responsible for all or even most of that kind of performance. Jobs has always been the exception who proves the rule as far as the cult of the CEO is concerned — he’s one of very, very few CEOs who really did make an enormous difference to their company. But even so, he’s just one guy, and he’s built around him a super-talented team who know exactly what’s expected of them. We’re not going to see Tim Cook coming out and talking about “one more thing” at a WWDC keynote presentation, but we don’t need to. Apple is a dominant company now, and is more than big enough to be able to withstand a leadership change at the top.

Today’s news, and tomorrow’s, will rightly be all about Jobs. But in a few years’ time, I look forward to the seeing the case studies showing how Apple, seeing an entirely predictable event coming down the road, set up an elegant and model handover from Jobs to Cook. Jobs knows that he will be judged on this — and I’m quietly confident that he’s done it perfectly.

Comments
25 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

POLL: What do you think will happen to Apple now that Steve Jobs has resigned?
http://www.wepolls.com/p/2073012

Posted by crizCraig | Report as abusive
 

Sad to see Steve go, but he’s changed the world more than once and not many can say they’ve come close to that. His vision and attention to detail, his pursuit of perfection and resistance to the cult of “cheaper at all costs” have made Apple what it is today: a truly innovative company that is joint largest in the world by market cap (depending on exactly which day this year you pick). A company that puts users first, but which also believes in amazing engineering and industrial design that not only saves money, but looks great too.

Apple is where it is today, not because they cut corners to save money, but because they didn’t, adding value instead. I do so hope that a future CEO doesn’t try to go the corner cutting way because I like my Macs, iPhone and iPad fully formed – and they work better and for longer that way too.

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive
 

I’m highly skeptical of the claims that Apple (or in this case, Jobs) has created entirely new classes of devices or reinvented things. Most of the products they sell that are most successful were marketed by someone else first. For whatever reason, Apple executed the vision far better. Whether it was bundling the download service for the iPod, making Web browsing massively easier on the iPhone, or finally executing a sleek, simple tablet, the idea wasn’t Apple’s. The design and execution–which are massively difficult things–certainly are, but I’m not sure the “innovation” really was.

Posted by MitchW | Report as abusive
 

I think the vast majority of Fortune 500 CEOs and Chairmen have been grossly overpaid during the last two decades. Steve Jobs is one of the very few who actually were worth their compensation packages, and possibly more. His departure and subsequent return to vastly improve the company’s performance a few years ago was additional proof of this.

His primary innovation was focusing on the end user at all times while being able to be profitable in a highly competitive market place. The products were simple and elegant to use while usually the same size or smaller than the competitor’s similar products.

He will be sorely missed.

Posted by ErnieD | Report as abusive
 

As an investor and a consumer I’m greatful for everything Job’s has done. One of a kind… and he did it his own way.

Apple futures are down $25 when I checked earlier and the biggest complement I can give Jobs is to buy some more of his stock tomorrow. I think he built a strong company which will do just fine as his role is diminished.

I hope every day he has left on Earth is spent doing things he enjoys!

Posted by y2kurtus | Report as abusive
 

Geez, with all the comments I’ve seen all over the web you’d think we were reading his obituary…

He certainly was a fine engineer, but so was Bill Gates; the big difference was Jobs failed terribly before he pulled his Phoenix routine and turned Apple into the colossus it is now. That failure gave him the extra motivation to really stick it to everyone who ever doubted him – the kind of motivation one normally only hears about from athletes. With all respect to what he’s created, I’d say his biggest accomplishments were ad campaigns…

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive
 

That’s a truly great tribute ad I agree with all of it. Steve is Wal Disney, he is Albert Einstein. I dont know what else there is to say. Thanks Felix

Posted by ReformedBroker | Report as abusive
 

As the Who once said “It’s the singer not the song that makes the music move along” and SJ was that singer. The company will not be the same and Cook is no replacement.

As one who owns many Apple gadgets (cause the desktop has, and always will belong to Redmond), I hope to see more innovation on Apples part and less doubling down on ridiculous IP rhetoric- the team will certainly need to focus on the creative side to just maintain his level of achievement.

Posted by mynamehear2 | Report as abusive
 

Why am I not surprised at the number of truly lower-echelon thinkers – who don’t get it?

Steve went out and accomplished qualitative goals more than once. Most folks never even try.

Posted by Eideard | Report as abusive
 

“Steve went out and accomplished qualitative goals more than once. Most folks never even try.”

That is so much true. I guess that is what would show Jobs a true contribution – even a common person can achieve so much only if she attends to such qualitative goals.

I would say that is an extraordinary contribution.

Posted by umeshgeeta | Report as abusive
 

Felix you’re going a bit over-board. Shedding tears, thanking Steve like you’re in a cancer ward holding his hand. I own many Apple products. Some of them have been monumental rip-offs bought only to be replaced 6 months late by a better device. No changeable batteries. Lousy customer service. But they are ultimately nice devices.

The thing is, I enjoy them but I could, without any doubt at all, live without them. If they all disappeared the next day I’d shrug my shoulders and read a newspaper. We’re not talking about the light bulb, clean water, sanitation or food security here. It’s a touchscreen device loaded with apps that largely all do the same thing. Dial back the cheesiness a little.

Posted by AJB111 | Report as abusive
 

Also, you’ve written extensively and very intelligently about the financial crisis. I think one of the route problems is the fetishization of corporations. As you recite mind boggling statistics you don’t impress me, you frighten me. Corporations are such behemoths as this point, that even ones that give you devices for your personal and intimate use are massive, globe-spanning, economy warping squids.

I am not impressed that AAPL has annualized revenues approaching $80billion, I am frightened. It’s a sad way for capital to flow needlessly to one company simply because they are experts at price-gouging and patent-warfare.

Posted by AJB111 | Report as abusive
 

They bought 16 iPads at retail price? Why?

http://www.jordan.pausd.org/technology/t ech_expenses_2010-2011.html

Posted by Uncle_Billy | Report as abusive
 

ErnieD: “I think the vast majority of Fortune 500 CEOs and Chairmen have been grossly overpaid during the last two decades. Steve Jobs is one of the very few who actually were worth their compensation packages, and possibly more.”

Yep, they could possibly rise it to 2$ :)

Posted by N_Sp | Report as abusive
 

No, it is clear that they won’t be able to withstand the leadership change. Some of it would happen anyway since they have already grown too much reaching the size when institutional rigidities kick in. Until now, those were balanced by Steve Jobs’ personality (and his health condition boosting his missionary way of thinking). I am afraid, Apple is doomed to bleed in internal turf wars etc.

Posted by tk2 | Report as abusive
 

“What I can’t figure out is why [Jobs] is even trying? He knows he can’t win.”

– Bill Gates, 1998

Posted by MarkC123 | Report as abusive
 

Interesting to note that Steve Jobs name appears on 313 Apple patents, 33 of which as lead inventor. In contrast, Bill Gates appears on just 9 Microsoft patents, and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin have just over a dozen between them.

The New York Times has made up an interesting interactive listing of all his patents here:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/ 08/24/technology/steve-jobs-patents.html

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive
 

@MarkC123- yes, but then there was always the loan. Pretty much a loan to keep MS out of anti trust court by buoying at least a little competition. “Apple Vs. Microsoft, 1997- Apple, looking like it was on its last legs, put Steve Jobs in charge in a last-ditch effort to keep the company alive. The situation was so dire that they had to get a $150 million loan from arch-nemesis Microsoft, who by that point had become the 800-pound gorilla thanks to Windows 95. Meanwhile, Apple was playing catch-up with Mac OS.”

Ah well, the next 5 years should be very different for both.

Posted by mynamehear2 | Report as abusive
 

Steve who?

Posted by Spendlove | Report as abusive
 

When it comes to useful biographies to tell your kids about, Steve Jobs is as good as anyone’s. Persistence. Perfectionism. Integrity. Pride. Humility. Perspective. Comeback. Crazy One.

Posted by timsmit | Report as abusive
 

Under Steve Jobs, Apple has always had an unrelenting zeal to bring the consumer — and humanity — back to the center of the ring.

It’s this pursuit of merging technology with humanity that may be Jobs’ greatest innovation and his most enduring legacy, something I blogged about here:

LEGACY: Ruminations on the Brilliance and Spirit of Steve Jobs (O’Reilly Radar) http://oreil.ly/qLT7bi

Check it out, if interested.

Mark

Posted by hypermark | Report as abusive
 

That video sounded like a mix between a Justin Bieber fan and a religous fanatic. :)

Posted by Developer | Report as abusive
 

I’m more worried about that proposed doughnut shaped complex they’re proposing for their Cupertino HQ. A company can survive a change in CEO, but “edifice complex” is a sure sign of imminent corporate death. Designing the new HQ both sucks up the time and effort at the center of the corporate focus, but is also a sign of a certain kind of complacency. It’s a good investing rule to short companies with new headquarters buildings. It doesn’t always make money, but it wins more often than not.

Posted by Kaleberg | Report as abusive
 

Kaleberg: I don’t disagree about the Edifice Complex, but the 1 Infinite Loop campus was built when Apple was a much smaller and vastly different company back in the 80s, and if you visit it now, it’s clearly straining at the seams.

If the timing had been a little different, Apple might have been able to buy out Sun or SGI’s old HQs and get a new space on the (relative) cheap, but none of those places are on the market right now. (SGI’s old digs are now a little company called Google.) And, admirably, they seem to want to stay in Cupertino rather than just move to some anonymous office park in Santa Clara (*cough* Yahoo *cough*) So where are they gonna put their next 30,000 employees? Build, buy or lease, and if you can’t buy or lease then you’re gonna build. And Apple being Apple, they’re not going to build an ugly home…

Posted by Doctor_Memory | Report as abusive
 

At the risk of offending friends and colleagues who labour in the anonymity of the South Bay, I’m moved to laughter when I read of someone contrasting the suburbs of Cupertino and Santa Clara, and hoping to draw out a real distinction.

The vast swath of that portion of Santa Clara Valley has long been filled out by cookie-cutter suburbs. Cupertino is no different in any meaningful regard than Campbell, Los Gatos, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, or even the less-dense areas of the city of San Jose.

That Apple chose Cupertino back in the eighties is an accident of time and circumstance. That they choose to remain there is (I believe) more of happenstance–they want to move into the former Hewlett-Packard campus that existed long before Apple was even formed.

I don’t fault those who live and work in the South Bay for being proud of the firms that are part and parcel of the physical geography of the place. Just as I wouldn’t do so in any of the other places where I’ve worked where a significant concentration of an industry’s wealth is forced into narrow geographic confines (cf. Wall Street, Hollywood).

To Kaleberg’s point about the corrosive effects of “crowning glory” architecture: I share the feeling that Apple’s efforts in this regard will prove to be a distraction–not a major one, but just enough so that the carefully balanced spinning wheel that is the Cook-led company can suddenly find itself in dangerous precession.

Posted by lauradeen | Report as abusive
 

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