One of my favorite reads is Jim Collin’s look at how good businesses become great businesses.
In Built to Last, Collins uses a series of case studies and research data to highlight leadership criteria which appear to help companies achieve longstanding success. Collins points out that among companies in business 100 years or more, their success, in part, can be attributed to a company CEO who toils away behind the scenes and trains a successor who does likewise.
It appears the “celebrity” CEO, one who is highly visible and largely in it for his/her own notoriety can be the cause of the organization’s downfall when they leave. Upon their departure, the relationships they established evaporate and nobody is left behind to pick up where the previous management left off. One example of a celebrity CEO is Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca. During his reign in the 1980s, the names Chrysler and Iacocca were nearly synonymous.
In the case of Apple, Jobs was a celebrity. His face graced the cover of magazines in life and death. He packed annual meetings where people fought for seats in his audience. People wanted to be in his sphere of influence.
But we really have a hard time gauging the strength of the succession plan for the company he founded and which consumed almost every waking minute he had. Jobs didn’t plan on dying when he did. And while I didn’t know him, I suspect I know leaders like him. They have a bit of an invincibility complex. Apple was Jobs company. He planned on living a long time and providing guidance to his company – his reason for living. In the end, that attitude could be the very downfall of the organization. Let’s hope that Jobs’ successor is toiling quietly away somewhere, working on Apple’s next big thing. It’ll be a tough act to follow.