by Rob Enderle
Apple released http://www.iht.com a memo this morning indicating that Steve Jobs loss of body mass was due to a Hormonal Imbalance but did not explain the cause of the imbalance. A common side effect http://www.ricancercouncil.org of Pancreatic Cancer is a Hormonal Imbalance suggesting that; and this shouldn’t be a surprise http://arstechnica.com given this is Apple, that we may not be getting the entire story. But much like the Imbalance may be a symptom of a bigger problem; the focus on Steve Jobs’ health is a big indicator that Apple’s Board has simply not been performing its primary duty, ensuring the continued survival of Apple.
The Apple Board’s Failure
It isn’t uncommon for a CEO to want to keep their job. But no one lives forever and it remains one of the Board’s responsibilities to ensure that the company they oversee does not fail if the CEO suddenly departs. Companies are supposed to be immortal yet Apple’s survival is tied solidly to Steve Jobs at the moment and this suggests the Apple Board simply isn’t doing its job to adequately ensure the firm’s survival.
They have had several warnings; the first that we know of was the Stock Option Post-Dating scandal http://www.msnbc.msn.com that Steve Jobs miraculously survived. The second, which they also failed to disclose timely, was the onset of nearly always fatal Pancreatic Cancer. Few firms get one warning let alone three and all point to the critical need for a successor to Steve Jobs.
Building a Successor
Steve Jobs is unique but he was trained to do what he does over a number of years. In short he was built and a replacement could be trained to take his job and likely do it well. But, one of the critical aspects of the job is unique in business and that is his ability to pitch products. This is a presentation skill currently unmatched in industry and yet religious leaders and politicians have shown us the skill not only can be learned it exists, likely dormant, in a large number of us.
Another skill is Steve’s eye for design and his apparent ability to communicate what he wants in a product or in a presentation. This too could be taught, but to do this at Steve’s level, Steve likely should teach it. In both cases this suggests Apple needs a CEO sidekick or trainee if you will, someone that Steve could mentor into the job. There are three likely reasons why this hasn’t been done. The first is that Steve, having been fired once, is afraid of becoming replaceable. The second is that any such person would be able to name their own price for a CEO someplace else (and people like this don’t wait indefinitely to get the promotion they were trained for. And the third is that Steve Jobs is notoriously hard on the people around him also suggesting that additional problems might result.
But if running companies like Apple were easy we wouldn’t pay CEOs and Boards such incredible salaries. Regardless of how difficult it is to do, Apple’s future simply must be assured. Actors don’t like understudies (for a lot of the same reasons) and yet, if you’ve ever been to a Broadway Show, you know that the Show generally goes on even if the actor is unavailable.
Steve Jobs’ Health should be a private matter, the fact that is isn’t points to the lack of a succession plan. Steve has two reasons to train a viable successor, the first is to get his privacy back, and the second is to ensure that the company he helped build survives him. Apple is his child, a parent’s duty is to ensure the child survives him; currently neither Steve Jobs nor its Board is doing their duty.