Jobs gives up his job, but can Apple go on without him?

Apple's legendary CEO has resigned under ominous circumstances, making the markets decidedly nervous...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 Aug 2011
MT was awoken this morning to the bittersweet sound of a million fanboys weeping gently into their iPads, after Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs handed in his notice last night. It’s more than just a sad day for Apple: as Jobs wrote, ‘I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.’ Given that he’s been on sick leave since January, having undergone a liver transplant in 2009, and surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004, that’s downright ominous. Jobs says he’s still planning to stay on as chairman (a newly-created role) – although given the circumstances, just how involved he’ll be isn’t clear.

One of the world’s most charismatic CEOs, Jobs’ legacy is more than just a few shiny toys. As various analysts have already pointed out, innovations like the mouse and the graphical user interface (aka desktop), on Apple’s first Macintosh, became a mainstay for a generation of computers; while the iPod, iPhone and iPad all spawned a rash of copy-cat gadgets as rivals like Microsoft struggled to keep up, redefining the music and mobile communications industries in the process. On the surface, Apple may look like it’s merely a gadget manufacturer, but Jobs’ relentless drive helped it briefly overtake Exxon Mobil as the largest company in the world earlier this month, with a market cap of $350bn.

Hardly surprising, then, that share prices dropped by at least 5% in overnight trading: after all, Jobs is known for his ‘hands-on’ management style. During his first tenure as CEO (he left in 1985 after coming to blows with his board, returning in 1996), he was known for lambasting employees whose attention to detail wasn’t quite up to scratch. More recently, he apparently became obsessed over the exact positioning of a single screw inside the iPhone. So now he’s leaving, the markets can be forgiven for a certain amount of nervousness.

Actually the markets have been rife with speculation over what’ll become of the business now: after all, Apple was notoriously reluctant about imparting any details of its succession plans before Jobs said he would be taking sick leave, only revealing that COO Tim Cook would be taking the helm once Jobs had made his announcement. And not much has been said about what’s going to happen next.

That said, analysts have pointed out that Jobs leaves behind one of the ‘best executive teams’ in Silicon Valley. And they’ve got a certain amount of wiggle room, too: the company is poised to release several new gadgets, including the new iPhone, over the next few months. After that, though, they’ll be on their own. And whether the company can keep on coming up with iconic products without its driving force behind it remains to be seen.

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