SANTA CRUZ, October 7, 2013 — Recently, Apple marked the two year anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death. The untimely passing of the company’s iconic leader left questions about its future capacity to innovate. In a tech culture filled with rivals and competition, Apple has managed to stay one step ahead of the pack for several years, due, many thought, to Jobs’ singular vision. In the two years since his death, Apple has managed to continue rolling out great products and vanguard technology, even as its public image and internal structure have undergone drastic changes.
By now, the tale of Jobs and Apple is legendary. After forming the company in 1976 with friend and collaborator Steve Wozniak, he was forced out in 1985 after an internal power struggle. Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, rescuing the flailing company from bankruptcy. With Jobs in charge, Apple rolled out the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPad and iPhone, creating the gold standard which others have endeavored to emulate.
In the last two years, Apple’s leadership structure has morphed into more of a rule by committee than the dictatorship many viewed Jobs’ tenure as. Tim Cook, with Apple since 1998, is the new CEO. Unlike Jobs, he delegates and shares responsibility with a small group of fellow executives, primarily Craig Federighi, Phil Schller, and Jony Ive. Where Jobs was aloof, defensive, and abrasive, Cook comes across as genial, approachable, and much less secretive.
Jobs’ illness and subsequent death were seen publicly as sudden events. Behind the scenes, he had been carefully preparing Cook and the others to carry on with the company after he had gone. It was a heady move and the primary reason Apple has not wavered since the passing of its cofounder.
Steve Jobs is revered as an icon, an enigmatic leader with a genius brain and rock star persona. To many, he appeared larger than life. From the revolutionary introduction of the iMac to the industry-changing iPhone, everything he announced during his rabidly anticipated keynote addresses quickly turned to tech gold.
In truth, Jobs was somewhat of a drifter. After dropping out of college, working odd jobs and borrowing money from friends to get by, he traveled to India and became temporarily transfixed by eastern philosophy. Credited with co-founding Apple, Wozniak was the more technically savvy of the pair with Jobs serving as the marketer, a brilliant and creative salesperson for Wozniak’s snake oil.
Jobs, in his prime, retained a unique eye for creative talent and a singular focus for perfection in the company’s product line, regardless of what other companies were doing. Several current tech standards were introduced by Apple to a chorus of disbelief and apprehension, only to have those critics hurry to copy what Apple had done.
When Jobs set out to rescue and reinvent the brand, Apple coveted the image of a feisty underdog, its “think different” advertising campaign striking a chord among the counter culture. Owning an Apple computer instantly identified one as an artist or musician, a rebel going against the grain. Jobs had not taken the traditional route to success, and everything Apple did went against the conventional thinking of the time.
Today, with close to $147 billion cash on hand, Apple’s underdog days are certainly over. The company is on a tremendous winning streak, in spite of supply chain leaks, stock market cynicism, and unabated pressure from its peers. With the far more traditional leadership of Cook, and its sights set firmly in the future, Apple’s new motto may be: “look different, think the same.”
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.