Ask More of Business

Asking More Commentary: Perspectives from Mendoza College of Business

Commentary Post - Mike Mannor

Apple after its oracle is gone

October 7, 2011

 The biggest challenge for companies that lose their iconic leaders is to decide, collectively, what their new identity will be.  Can the company effectively carry on the vision as set forth by their former leader?  Should the company evolve?  For Southwest Airlines after Herb Kelleher left the company the “spirit” of Southwest has continued on with new generations of leadership.  For Wal-Mart, major changes occurred after Sam Walton left, but the presence of his family helped to give the “Walton blessing” to the enormous growth Wal-Mart after Sam Walton.  In the case of Henry Ford, the ethos that Henry Ford inspired at his company certainly faded over time.
There are certainly challenges after the loss of mystical and visionary leaders. Without their oracle to lead them, small missteps could become magnified and spiral into a culture crisis.  For example, there seems to be a pretty tepid response to the new iPhone.  The new product was delivered later than expected, with fewer features than expected, and with less design marvel than expected.  All of these could be attributed to the “Jobs void.”  One product disappointment probably won’t change much about the culture at Apple or the public perception of Apple.  However, if this is followed with more disappointment, the cult of Apple could become downright menacing.  As a fan of Tim Cook I hope this doesn’t happen.