Many of us our thinking about Steve Jobs these days. I know I am. As readers of this blog and and my friends, know that I have mixed feels for Steve, a man that I first meet in 1981when he was 25 years old. And while, I have not appreciated how he has treated some people over the years, I have reluctantly grownt o have great admiration for his leadership and vision. And of course I am sad to think of any person suffering from cancer. My heart goes out to his wife, Laurene and to their three children.
So like a number of you, I have been thinking about what will happen to Apple when Steve can no longer lead the company. That caused me to ponder the relationship between leading a company and having vision. Many companies are founded by entrepenuers that have a vision they are trying to impliment. They are driven by this vision. Most do not have the manegment skills to lead their companies as they grow and are forced out in some form. But when they do have these skils, it can prove to be a powerful force. We have great examples of this in the technology industry. Microsoft, Intel, Oricale and more recently Google (which is a bit of an exception since the founders brought in a professional manager early to work side by side with them). But eventually the founders are either replaced because they can not manage the growth (Yahoo) or the founders retire (Microsoft and Intel).
While a founder that is both the companies visionary and also its CEO is a powerful force, a CEO that is not a visonary leads typically by committee. This kind of CEO asks a bunch of people he/she respects to provide ideas and then he/she tries to reach a concensus. What normally comes out of this is a compromise. Risk taking is avoided as the CEO is not able to internalize the vision and moves to what is more comfortable. And sometimes the CEO/founder can hold onto power but the world changes and the CEO is no longer capable of having a vision for the future. In my opinion that is what happend with Andy Grove when I was still at Intel and Andy could not really graps that the heart and profit of the internet was moving from the client to the the cloud. But somehow, Jobs has not only to continue to comprehend but was also able to shape the future.
There is an interesting discussion of the future of Apple without Jobs here.