What happens when Steve Jobs dies?

By SteveJack

I was going to call this article, “What happens when Steve Jobs retires?” or “Apple after Steve Jobs,” in deference to taste, but then I decided that I wanted as many people to read it as possible, so… I succumbed. I just want you to know that I felt a pang of guilt typing that headline on a Mac.

Steve Jobs is Apple. Apple is Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs without Apple still managed to produce the foundation for what Apple became NeXT (after they paid him $400 million) while, in his spare time, heading a movie studio that only produces runaway box office hits. Apple without Steve Jobs produces Performas.

As a very minor Apple stockholder, I get the proxy statements, I check off the “yes” boxes to give Steve jets, millions of options, jet fuel, more options, whatever he wants, and I wonder what in the hell happens if Steve gets hit by a bus biking on over to the Palo Alto Apple Store some Saturday.

Steve Jobs is 48 years old. Reportedly, he is a vegan and in very good health. May he live to be one hundred! May he live forever, but that’s probably unlikely. So, I’m back to the beginning; what happens when Steve Jobs dies? Or, a bit more hopefully, when he doesn’t feel like leading Apple Computer, Inc. anymore and decides to kick back and relax? Since Jobs returned to lead Apple, every Apple shareholder, employee, and avid company watcher has asked themselves this question at some point, “whither Steve Jobs?”

Pixar has John Lasseter and a crop of young, talented directors to carry on post-Steve. But, who will lead Apple? Is Steve grooming someone, yet? Is it too early to worry about it? And what about that bus, God forbid?

I mean, come on, we all lived through the Scully, Spindler, and Amelio years; Apple barely did. On the face of it, the closest Apple has to a successor-in-grooming is Phil Schiller. No offense, Phil, but the RDF hasn’t rubbed off. Leading Apple is a very tricky proposition. Only one man so far has pulled it off successfully. Twice. The key ingredients seem to be a quest for perfection, a passion for the technology and the company, and the ability to relate Apple’s ideas to the world with style. Jobs is truly the charismatic force that propels Apple forward in the face of tremendous odds.

Right now, it looks like Apple’s best hope, and a very good one at that, is Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Vice President of Industrial Design, the London Design Museum’s “2003 Designer of the Year,” and chief designer of the original and current iMacs, iPods, iBooks, PowerBooks, Power Mac G5, and more. He seems to work well with the engineers responsible for the hardware. He is obviously a meticulous genius. And he has “that certain something” which, importantly, comes across on camera and in person. Whether he has the extremely rare “vision thing” that Jobs possesses; well, that’s still an open question.

Watch Ive in the Power Mac G5 intro video. Ive first appears about 40% in, at the 2:50 mark of the 6:33 minute video. Note that he is almost wearing a black mock turtleneck already. Contrast his presentation style and enthusiasm with the other Apple presenters. Can you sense the almost Jobsian, call it Junior Jobsian, aura? Ive has “it” while all of the other Apple employees in the video are just nice people talking about a computer. And Ive should only get better with time. Could we be watching Steve Jobs’ successor, Apple’s future CEO, in the 31-year-old Ive? Watch and see if Ive begins to join Steve on stage during keynotes soon.

Jonathan Ive, Apple Computer CEO circa 2025. It has a pretty nice ring to it, doesn’t it? You heard it here first. I think Mr. Ive could pull it off. And I think Jobs thinks so, too; in about twenty years, bus drivers willing.

SteveJack is a long-time Macintosh user, web designer, multimedia producer and a regular contributor to the MacDailyNews Opinion section.


  1. 1. Man, you can really write.
    2. You’re right — compared to the geek stiffs in the video — Ive has a Jobsian quality.
    3. Can an industrial designer lead a computer/consumer electronics/music distribution company? Well, what were Jobs’ qualifications when starting out with Woz to create Apple?

  2. “He pulled it off successfully twice.” Jobs nearly killed the company off the first time around. Gifted though he may be in some regards his actual business skills are still in doubt about running the company.

    Your article suggests that one ought sell Apple short so as to capitalize upon the drop when he departs the scene. Apple continues to move nearer to irrelevancy. In the mainstream no one really cares what Apple does.

    Have you considered writing an article on the opportunities that would open up for Apple in a post Jobs scenario? There are many things which might be done which Jobs would never even consider. Perhaps the focus should be on the corporation rather than the personality. If nothing else a successor might start with a rational advertising campaign.

  3. When I read the headline to this story without reading anything else I started to think…….the first name that came to mind was Jonathon Ive.

    He (Ive) just seems to have the Apple concept down pat. I’m not sure he has the charismatic quality of Jobs but they can get a talking head for him.

  4. I was waiting around to find some uptight response like Craig’s. Thanks, Craig for keeping the wait short!

    IMHO the article’s title clearly states the content of the piece and is explained within. Rule one of headline writing would be to grab a reader’s attention. It worked. Lighten up, Craig.

  5. Everyone dies at some point, Craig. Physically, at least. It’s okay to talk about it – even though this article is clearly not examining the funeral arrangements.

    On topic: I think Mr. Ive has what it would take to transition. No other company and CEO are so intertwined. If Apple makes it past the post-Steve era, they’ll be around for hundreds of years!

  6. I think the success of Jobs is less about his personality and charisma than about the fact that what motivates him — even to this day — is less about profits and marketshare than it is about new, cutting-edge technology. Sure, as the chief steward of Apple as a corporation, he wants the company to be profitable and he wants its market share to grow as well — of course. But that is not his chief motivation. If it were, then he could just as easily have Apple sell coffee mugs and t-shirts. For Jobs — much more than for Gates — it’s about the technology.

    What rings Jobs’ bell is to introduce to the industry new and innovative technology. He still gets excited over this — and this excitement is woven into the very fabric of Apple’s corporate culture throughout the ranks. This is what most distinguishes him from all other computer company CEO’s. And if his successor at Apple does not have this same mantra and focus, and if instead it’s more about the balance sheet alone, then no matter how charismatic he might otherwise be, Apple could just as easily succumb to be another assembler, like Dell.

  7. Jonathan Ive as the successor to Steve Jobs? I’m unconvinced. Ive is a superb designer, and unquestionably one of Apple’s assets. But does that also make him CEO material? I’m not sure. There’s a nasty phenomenon in industry whereby talented people get promoted out of their realm of expertise (i.e. top technicians get made managers so they can get management pay levels). The result is a double cost to the company: they aren’t doing the job that they’re good at, and the job they are doing, they do badly. If that happened to Ive, Apple would suffer.

    Steve Jobs is a visionary and an autocrat. By all accounts, he’s not a great manager, and not all the decisions he’s taken are good. MacOS X contains plenty of questionable elements that were imposed on it by Jobs against the advice of his experts. But his combination of charisma and commitment has undoubtedly helped Apple more than the plodding moneymen who ran the company before him.

    Jobs isn’t irreplaceable, but if he’s replaced by one of the current industry-standard CEOs – who seem to be mostly either corporate looters or box-shifters whose only concern is the share price – then Apple’s doom does indeed look likely. What is clear is that Apple can only survive at this stage on innovation and vision; whoever replaces Jobs will have to have, if not _his_ vision, at least _a_ vision.

  8. To angusm, you make many good points. I agree that Jobs has made a number of bad decisions over the years — though on balance he has nonetheless led (and indeed pushed) Apple forward. But I think people place too much emphasis on Jobs’ charisma in this respect. I think it’s more about his passion for actually MAKING something. After all, between the scenarios of (1) Apple as innovative technology company with small market share and (2) Apple as an ordinary computer company with small market share, which do you think would be better for Apple, its stockholders, and the industry overall?

    Good management skills are crucial — absolutely. But equally crucial for Apple is that Jobs’ successor actually care about the technology. If it’s all the same to Apple’s new CEO that the company could make coffee mugs and t-shirts, then — good management skills notwithstanding — Apple will not survive. So BOTH are required.

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