When I heard the news that Steve Jobs was to step down from his post, I was saddened to hear of it. I have always admired him for his true skills in thought leadership and his abilities that lead him into turning the Apple brand into something truly innovative and memorable.
Behind a small company is usually a strong thought leader, and in Apple’s case this is truer than ever. But this is because of the leader behind the company, and not because of the company itself, that Apple has become a successful brand.
Only people can be thought leaders, not entire corporations, and Steve Jobs has been the face of Apple for so long that his name and the company’s name are nearly interchangeable.
In order for someone to be a thought leader, they must have extensive reach, effective engagement, credible authority and longevity in the minds of customers. Jobs has all of these qualities, in large amounts.
His reach as a thought leader extends to hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, videos, speeches, books and other media. He passes the true test of reach and as a result, many thousands of people across the world know his name. In fact it probably amounts to billions.
In addition to his extraordinary reach, Jobs has also taken engagement to a whole new level, being visible and vocal, as well as bold and opinionated. This has caused people, i.e Apple’s customers, to get to know him personally. This means that Jobs is able to offer the whole package, of an authoritative figure and a trusted brand that people know more personally.
This is very attractive to customers, and it is a sure fire way to make sure people remember you so it works from a business perspective too. This is another reason why people feel so sad that he is stepping down.
Jobs’ authority is solid and proven; in his time as CEO, he has overseen and led an unprecedented revival at Apple, and launched ground breaking, innovative products and record profits. As for longevity – Steve Jobs’ name is already guaranteed a place in the history books.
So his replacement will have big shoes to fill. I think that Tim Cook will make an ideal substitute as a long-standing member of the Apple Corporation and also part of the success front line. He worked hard on the Macintosh projects and was in charge of worldwide sales so he has had a good all round experience.
I would recommend that Cook does not try to be an identical replacement for Jobs, as this would not work. In my own line of work, I always advise each thought leader to show their own uniqueness – unique ideas, unique innovation and unique succession.
Cook should embrace his own personal brand and values, and then allow people to get to know him for this. His own authority that comes from his time at the company and in the industry is sure to be tempting to Apple’s customers and their curiosity for who has replaced Mr Jobs.
We don’t know Tim Cook yet, and he has a steep challenge ahead of him. But in time and with the right thought leadership strategy we soon will – as the new face of Apple.