Following Steve Jobs: Good luck Tim Cook

Incoming Apple CEO Successor Tim Cook has his work cut out for him. Here is a crash course in “followership.”

Photo: igrec@flickr

NORTHFIELD, MN August 27, 2011—“You can replace an executive, but you can’t replace a founder.” (Anonymous Investor)

This was brought home this week when Apple’s founder and CEO stepped down and tapped Tim Cook, the current COO, to take his place at the helm.

CEO succession events are always critical junctures for organizations. When the executive who leaves is also a founder, it is trickier. Luckily, both those who have been in their shoes and business scholars have thought deeply about this transition.

This year I worked with two organizations that were led by successful founders. The founders were leaving and the followers were, well, floundering. They knew that a new leader was necessary and that things would never be the same again. In the process, I learned new concepts like “Founder Separation,” “Succession Planning” and “On-Boarding Successors.”

Founder Separation

Work yourself out of a job.  Look at it with the idea of training others to carry on the work.  Its one thing to think ‘this is mine forever.’ But as a founder, it’s not yours to keep.” (Anonymous CEO)

In this July 16, 2010 photo shows Apple's Tim Cook, left, and Steve Jobs, right, during a meeting at Apple in Cupertino, Calif. Cook takes over as CEO for Apple after Jobs resigned. (Image: Associated Press)

In this July 16, 2010 photo shows Apple’s Tim Cook, left, and Steve Jobs, right, during a meeting at Apple in Cupertino, Calif. Cook takes over as CEO for Apple after Jobs resigned. (Image: Associated Press)


Susan Kenny Stevens, an experienced management consultant, is an expert on founders, especially in the nonprofit sector. She says:

Founders, like many entrepreneurs, march to their own drummers…. They need no one’s approval…. They defy conventional methods…. There is always more to be done and never enough time or money to do it….

“The drive for sustainability forces founders to face the toughest of all questions: Do I want my organization to survive me? If so, what must happen to institutionalize my vision?”

Succession Planning

Organizational survival is the ultimate indicator of success.” (Michael Hannan and John Freeman, Organizational Ecology)

Noam Wasserman at Stanford University has studied large firms. He authored Founder CEO Success and the Paradox of Entrepreneurial Success, a thoughtful study of large firms that offers many strategies which can help at this difficult juncture in a company’s life.

For example, in your product development, are you at a completion point? Is your financing secure for the next term? It is often easier for CEO-Founders to negotiate with investors than it is for their successors.

On-Boarding Successors

Work with the board as you develop into the work. Partner with staff that is strong in areas where you are weak. Be authentic and remember it is about the strength of organization, not about you looking good.” (Anonymous CEO)

The most neglected step when it comes to succession planning is preparing for what happens after the successor is named. Making succession a sink-or-swim shock is simply too risky to endure. There is no such thing as a “ready now” candidate. Anyone named as a successor has learning to do and mistakes to recover from as he moves forward in his new job.

The ‘Post-Arrival Factor’ matters, too. These are actions taken by new CEOs and their accumulation of “sources of power and influence.” Positively supported actions and garnering power will make all the difference for a new CEO in the long run.

Tim Cook has substituted for Steve Jobs while he was on medical leave, so he is not the new kid on the block as Apple’s CEO. Still, these are valuable lessons to learn as he steps into the big shoes of his predecssor.

Mr. Cook, we wish you the very best in your new role. We love the Apple brand and look forward to your next generation of products.

Please Comment: What advice do you have for Mr. Cook?


Donna Rae is an award winning writer, consultant, planner, facilitator, and coach. One Minnesota organization gave her a coveted ‘Futures’ award. Another named her the 2002 Outstanding Faculty member. She has co-authored five books and numerous articles. She is the founder of the consulting firm Leadership Tools. She asks organizations: “Are your leadership tools as up-to-date as your computer systems?” Read more from Donna Rae Scheffert at Washington Times Communities and Online-Leadership-Tools.

Donna Rae can also be found on the strength training circuit, wine tasting, at board meetings, guiding her two teenagers, or dreaming about a sunny location to move with her husband after they retire.

Connect with Donna at LinkedIn; Follow Donna at Twitter.



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Donna Rae Scheffert

Donna Rae Scheffert is a facilitator, consultant and writer. Find more information online at

She lives in Minnesota with her husband and teenage son and daughter.

Honors and awards include University of Minnesota -Distinguished Extension Campus Faculty Award; Minnesota Rural Futures-FUTURES award; and numerous state and national awards for programs and publications.

Scheffert is an author of practical fieldbooks: Committees That Work: Common Traps and Creative Solutions; Social Capital, Building Leadership Programs, and Facilitation Resources available from

Donna Rae is also a Senior Consultant with and an Associate with

Her civic participation includes: Board Member-Community Action Center; Board Member-Women’s Philanthropic Group, and soccer team coordinator.

Photo Credit: Amber Procaccini

Leadership development expert & educator, Donna Rae Scheffert knows how public action by others for others improves lives - she helps people to get involved and provides tools to propel them toward their goals easier, faster, and with more fun. Read more from Donna Rae at

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