Apple Computer is now a ship without a captain. With the recent passing of Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs, the company now finds itself without one of the, if not the, greatest innovators of the second half of the 20th century. Jobs and Apple are responsible for such trend-setting products as the Macintosh computer, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Now without him, the future of Apple is unsure. The list of companies that lost their way after losing a visionary like Jobs is long, but the company is determined to press on.
One great example of a company that continued moving forward even after the death of its visionary leader is the Walt Disney Company. But today, Disney is bigger than ever. So what exactly did the Disney Co. do? How did it not only remain intact, but continue to set trends and lead the way?
One important factor was that it stayed in the family. After Walt’s death, brother Roy continued the same course and would always ask himself the question, “What would Walt do?” The same can be true for Apple. What would Steve do? The system left in place is still there. The people Steve hired are still there. The plans for the future are still there. For the near future, it seems all is well at Apple, and its stock price reflects this. Following Jobs’ untimely death, shares of Apple stock did not drop in any significant way.
Getting back to Disney, however, this strategy of “What would Walt do?” was not necessarily a successful one in the beginning. In the decades following Walt’s death in 1966, the company languished. Walt’s family and successors tried unsuccessfully to answer that very question, “What would Walt do?” Quite simply because it’s impossible to know what a visionary or innovator like Walt Disney would have done. The same may very well be true for Jobs.
Another example is the Ford Motor Co. After the death of founder Henry Ford in 1947, the family also tried the same method of asking, “What would Henry do?” It did not work either. The company floundered. GM slowly took away market share, and although Ford saw a slight resurgence in the 1970’s, it never regained its position at the top.
But not all such stories are failures. There are examples where companies have continued to succeed, even grow, after the passing of their dynamic founders. Wal-Mart is one of those stories.
No one was quite sure what would come of the retail giant back in 1992 when Sam Walton died. Sam was such a dynamic, hands-on owner, it was hard to see the company continuing its meteoric rise. But it did. The secret to its success? It continued on the path laid by Sam himself, says David Glass, who succeeded Sam as CEO of the company in 1984. This slow transition was a key factor in the success of the company after Sam’s death. It allowed Sam to groom Glass and be sure he would carry on the Wal-Mart traditions when it came time for him to take the reigns.
And Wal-Mart is not the only success story. When Gordon Moore passed away, both Craig Barret and Paul Otellini made sure that Intel continued its course in the world of computer software. McDonald’s is another of these great success stories. Ray Kroc died back in 1984, yet the system he left in place has propelled the company to become one of the biggest and most successful in all the world. Through a number of new CEOs, McDonald’s has never missed a beat.
What’s in store for Apple Computer? Only time will tell. It’s never easy to say what happens next when a genius like Steve Jobs disappears from the scene.