Steve Jobs made his much publicized return to Apple on June 29 following his liver transplant. So what now? Now that he is back, is the next break-through product around the corner? It’s hard to say.
Much of the affair concerning his health and return have been kept hushed, leading to a controversy revolving around investors’ right to know and Jobs’s right to privacy. His medical leave had sparked intense questions about the viability of Apple without his presence, and though many analysts are heartened by the fact that Apple did not implode during its messiah’s absence, six months is hardly enough time for such a judgment. So we are still left with the big question: How bad does Apple need Steve Jobs?
After Jobs got ousted from his CEO position in 1985 following a dispute with the board of directors, the company’s performance went south fast. On his return, when Apple bought NeXT Inc. and he was reinstated to his old position, he streamlined the company’s product line and introduced new products such as the G4, the iMac and of course the more recent and more infamous iPod and iPhone. There is clearly a pattern: Before Jobs Apple was a mess, after Jobs it is now one of the most acclaimed and profitable technological companies in the world.
Yet what is it that Jobs offers Apple? Is his contribution related more to the new type of attitude and corporate culture that defines Apple, the culture of reveling in what is different and new, of striving for aesthetic perfection and minimalism? Or is his contribution more that he is undisputably the brain behind Apple’s recent product line?
Jobs has become a celebrity in his own right and it is not easy to delve into the company to figure out exactly who is responsible for what. It seems, however, that Job’s biggest contribution to Apple is the direction he sets for it, the meticulous need for perfection that he brings and the culture of creativity cultivation. For the actual nit-and-grit of taking these directions and turning them into products, Jobs has recruited some of the most talented designers in the industry. Take for example, Jonathan Ive, senior vice-president for Industrial Design. This is the man who is credited as the chief designer of Apple’s most revolutionary products: iMac, Powerbook G4, MacBook Pro, iPod and iPhone. None of these products would exist they way they are without him.
Now that the culture Jobs has infused within Apple is in place, it is likely to remain there for a long time. Now with the immense financial and cultural success of Apple’s products, it will be easy to recruit the best in the industry. By placing people as driven and innovative as himself, such as Ive, Jobs has ensured that Apple’s competitors still have a lot to fear in his absence, retirement or death.