Company transitions can be painful. When the transition involves a transition from an iconic genius who was the company founder, captivating spokesman and product visionary, that painful transition can become excruciating. Or maybe not. The executives at Apple Inc. are now going through a transition that will become the stuff of business school case studies for decades to come. Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. have been intertwined from start-up to split up to triumphal reunion. Free advice is often worth the advertised price, but here are some pro bono suggestions.
1. Some companies are experts at transition. IBM comes immediately to mind as a company that makes transitions a core part of the company’s structure. IBM makes a study of never promoting its chief executive as irreplaceable and emphasizes the team players one or two layers below the boss. The hand-picked successors at Apple must now show why they were selected. They also need to identify the next generation of top Apple managers.
2. Some companies flounder at transitions. Hewlett-Packard comes immediately to mind. Why has HP proven so spectacularly unsuccessful at finding a new boss? Part of it is HP’s disparate product line, which spans a broad spectrum of products and services from consumer to corporate. Part of it is HP’s inability to find and promote from within which makes that second tier of managers feel their best career opportunities reside outside the company. Probably the biggest impediment is the unfilled need to articulate the company’s new mission with its new leadership rather than resort to the nostalgia of remembering the founders and management by walking around. Walking around a global enterprise is not possible. Apple needs to recognize that it will be a changed company and its leaders need to articulate that change.
3. Don’t try for a home run first time at bat. There will be a lot of pressure to prove that Apple can continue to create “insanely” great products. The pressure to make that insane home run the first time the new boss takes the stage will be intense. Learn to set public expectations and deliver what you have, rather than what you think the public wants to hear.
4. Create an “insanely” great product. I don’t know what that is. You don’t know what that is. But someone in your company has both the vision and drive to create that product or service. Apple managers have to find a way to give voice to that product desire or risk losing them to the outside.
5. Don’t use the cash hoard to buy up a bunch of companies. Set your internal strategy, create what you can inside the company and then think about acquiring. Acquisitions get a lot of public buzz and can make you feel like a high-performance manager. But unless you have a strong internal process for successfully integrating acquisitions (again IBM comes to mind), you end up with a lot of warring states without focus (and here, AOL comes to mind).
6. Stay away from the commodity race. Jobs was gifted in his ability to create products that were high margin and engendered incredible customer loyalty. The commodity business is marked by thin margins, the need to continually drive sales and grumpy customers who are the recipients of products built by the lowest-cost manufacturer using the lowest-cost parts.
7. Recognize that you, the transitional team, might indeed be transitional. Your highest value may be in finding and training the executives who will replace you.
8. Get out of the office. Go work in an Apple store for a while. Make sure you use all of Apple’s products (you’d be surprised by how many executives don’t use their company’s products) and use all the competitor’s products. You need to know what you are talking about.
10. Think beyond technology. Experience the outside world of art, culture and neighborhoods and people in need. The best use of technology solves a problem in a simple, yet effective manner.