Apple Unlikely to Crash Without CEO Jobs

This isn't the first time the question has been asked, but now that Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs is taking a second leave of absence for health-related reasons, it's impossible not to wonder: Can Apple continue to be successful without its visionary leader?

That the question is even asked is testament to Jobs. Since his return to Apple in 1996, the 55-year old co-founder has led the company with a sense of purpose and directional focus rarely seen among multibillion dollar, publicly held corporations. Under Jobs, the iPod became for MP3 players what Kleenex is for facial tissue; the iPhone started a consumer rush on what was once a market relegated mostly to business users; and the iPad beat all expectations and single-handedly brought tablet computing mainstream. It's Jobs's extreme degree of control that accounts for much of Apple's success. Might it not also lead ultimately to failure?

The problem with extreme authority is that once it's removed, chaos often ensues. Even if someone else steps up to fill the power vacuum, that person won't be Steve Jobs, no matter what other qualifications he or she brings to the table. And without Steve Jobs, in the minds of loyal followers, the general public, stockholders, and maybe even Apple employees, Apple just isn't Apple.

At least, it isn't the Apple we now know. Does it necessarily follow that an Apple without Jobs will be a failure? That's a much more extreme claim that ignores a number of very important factors. The first is history. We've been here before: In 2009, from January to June, Jobs took his first medical leave got what turned out to be a liver transplant. During that time, Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook stepped in as interim CEO.After an initial dip following the announcement of Jobs's leave (like the one we're seeing today, as Mathew reports), Apple's stock price rose steadily to peak at around $145 at the close of Cook's tenure, even amid rampant speculation that Jobs's absence might become permanent.Apple was so impressed with Cook's performance that the company gave him a $22 million bonus.

Media Presence? Try Phil Schiller

Cook isn't the only luminary in Apple's talent pool, either. There's top product designer Jonathan Ive, whose signature look has made Apple products the go-to gadgets for the fashion conscious and image-obsessed. Phil Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide product marketing, came to Apple with Steve's return and has played a significant role in company presentations. Schiller is arguably Apple's most prominent social media presence through his Twitter account.

None of these potential successors has Steve Jobs's celebrity status, but that role has been more than adequately filled by Jobs. While a celebrity CEO has been a major boon for Apple in the past, it doesn't necessarily follow that the company will flop without one. To suggest it will is to ignore the hard work and resourcefulness of the Apple employees who turn Jobs's visions into realities. In fact, according to some Apple employees who spoke to us, it's often necessary to circumvent Jobs subtly on issues where he's clearly in the wrong. Having a more reticent corporate leadership could let dissenting opinions surface, leading to timelier launches of products that would otherwise come to market late or not at all (a 7-inch iPad, for instance).

While Jobs's current leave has come as a surprise to us in the media, there's little chance Apple is unprepared for it. Steve Jobs may be largely responsible for Apple's success, but his absence wouldn't be responsible for its failure. Apple's prospects will always be dependent on the quality of the products it creates and on the resourcefulness and ingenuity of thousands of employees.

Also from GigaOM:

5 Companies That Ruled Mobile in 2010 (subscription required)

Sprint's $10 Smartphone Charge May Push Users to 4G

iPad 2 Picture Getting Clearer as Rumors Ramp Up

Netflix Users: DVD Not Dead Yet

EMC's New Gear for Big Data and the 'Consumer Enterprise'

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.