Steve Jobs Should Be Apple's Last Rock Star CEO

His vision and design instincts laid the groundwork for the device maker's historic turnaround, but now Jobs' company needs a different kind of leader to grow beyond its fanboy base.

Paul McDougall, Editor At Large, InformationWeek

January 18, 2011

2 Min Read

So forget notions like bringing back Steve Wozniak, or putting Apple in the hands of chief designer Jonathan Ive. They'd just be pale reflections of Jobs.

The only internal candidate who's got the necessary experience with global supply chains, channel networks, enterprise IT (with Compaq and IBM), partner relationships, and other areas where Apple needs to get bigger and better is COO Tim Cook, who'll be running the company while Jobs is on leave.

But the roster of external candidates is deeper, full of execs with more stellar resumes than Cook, whose tenure as Apple's top operations guy has been marred by Antennagate. Former HP CEO Mark Hurd comes to mind. He's an ops and logistics expert with big time IT experience, and the betting here is that his ability to coexist with the volatile Larry Ellison at Oracle, where Hurd is currently a co-president, will expire sooner than a quart of milk bought from a gas station.

Speaking of Ellison's road kill, Scott McNealy has been unemployed since Oracle closed out its acquisition of Sun Microsystems last year. At Sun, McNealy ran a company where, like Apple, the hardware, software, and chips were all developed in-house and sold as an integrated system. But under McNealy Sun was also one of the first enterprise players to fully embrace open source as a means to battle competitors that were richer and enjoyed better economies of scale. That's the kind of flexibility Apple needs right now, and McNealy is even cool enough to work there.

Apple's board might also want to consider a candidate that knows its arch-rival's playbook inside and out. That would be Bob Muglia, who was running Microsoft's $15 billion server division until Ballmer fired him last week. Muglia could be the perfect candidate in that, if there is a market Apple desperately needs to penetrate if the iPad is to ever make it with business users, it's servers. As long as Exchange is the de facto back end for corporate messaging, the iPad's future as an office PC replacement is extremely limited.

The examples could go on but the bottom line is this: There are plenty of execs out there who might be a better fit as Apple's next CEO than even Steve Jobs himself.

When Lou Gerstner was brought in to fix the shambles that was IBM in the mid-1980s, he said the last thing Big Blue needed at the time was a vision. Apple is anything but a shambles, but without a chieftain who can execute on the mundane details of commerce, Jobs' beautiful artifacts of industrial design might in a few years be nothing more than museum pieces.

To paraphrase Gerstner, the last thing Apple needs right now is another visionary.

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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