March 3, 2021

Jobs Steps Down at Apple, Saying He Can’t Meet Duties

“I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s C.E.O., I would be the first to let you know,” Mr. Jobs said in a letter released by the company. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Mr. Jobs, 56, has been on medical leave since January, his third such absence. He underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004, and received a liver transplant in 2009. But as recently as a few weeks ago, Mr. Jobs was negotiating business issues with another Silicon Valley executive.

 Mr. Jobs will become chairman, a position that did not exist before. Apple named Tim Cook, its chief operating officer, to succeed Mr. Jobs as chief executive.

Rarely has a major company and industry been so dominated by a single individual, and so successful. His influence has gone far beyond the iconic personal computers that were Apple’s principal product for its first 20 years. In the last decade, Apple has redefined the music business through the iPod, the cellphone business through the iPhone and the entertainment and media world through the iPad. Again and again, Mr. Jobs has gambled that he knew what the customer would want, and again and again he has been right.

“The big thing about Steve Jobs is not his genius or his charisma but his extraordinary risk-taking,” said Alan Deutschman, who wrote a biography of Mr. Jobs. “Apple has been so innovative because Jobs takes major risks, which is rare in corporate America. He doesn’t market-test anything. It’s all his own judgment and perfectionism and gut.”

Mr. Cook, an expert in logistics, has been instrumental in locking up contracts in advance for critical parts in the company’s devices. It has had the effect of securing favorable prices, keeping Apple’s profit margins high. But it also has prevented rival companies from producing competing products at significantly lower prices.

While Mr. Cook is well respected in the industry, he is little known outside of it. Analysts and Silicon Valley experts said new Apple products were in the pipeline for the next few years, but the company’s success beyond that was already being debated.

Tim Bajarin, president of the technology research firm Creative Strategies, said the news about Mr. Jobs was “a shock because it’s abrupt.” But Mr. Bajarin said that “while there’s definitely concern for Steve as a person,” he had little concern for the company.

“Steve has built a very deep bench of managers, including the leadership of Tim Cook, who clearly understands Steve’s vision, goals and direction,” said Mr. Bajarin, who has followed Apple for 30 years. 

Others were not so sure.

“You could make the case that Steve has injected so much of his DNA into Apple that Apple will continue,” said Guy Kawasaki, who was an Apple executive in the late 1980s. “Or you can make the case that without Steve, Apple will flounder. But you cannot make the case that Apple without Steve Jobs will be better. Hard to conceive of that.”

The technology world has never been short of strong-willed leaders (think Bill Gates at Microsoft or Larry Ellison at Oracle). But even in this select group, Mr. Jobs was noted for the control he exerted and the loyalty he commanded. Without him, his devoted team might soon fracture.

“I think the key question is whether the Apple team will continue to work as effectively as a collaborative without the single person to rely on for the final decision,” said Charles Golvin, a Forrester Research analyst.

Mr. Cook, 50, joined Apple in 1998. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2007, overseeing the day-to-day operations.  Wall Street had long assumed the soft-spoken Mr. Cook, who was raised in Alabama and is an Auburn University graduate, would be the successor to Mr. Jobs.  While Mr. Jobs convalesced, Apple thrived with the continuing rise in iPhone sales and huge growth in the iPad, the dominant tablet computer.

The company and Mr. Jobs had been criticized in the past for revealing little information about his health to investors. The news of Mr. Jobs’s resignation came after the market closed Wednesday. In after-hours trading, the stock fell 5 percent.

Contributing reporting were Verne G. Kopytoff, Claire Cain Miller and Nick Bilton in San Francisco, and Sam Grobart in New York.

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