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How Jobs' profile impacts Apple

Lisa Schmeiser | Aug. 19, 2008
There's only one employee at Apple who matters.

In addition to being a labor-intensive task, busting the Steve Jobs myth might not work in Apple's favor. "This is about one person giving a focused message and he delivers it very well," Gartenberg said. "There are very few people that can deliver a message like Steve. Other CEOs only wish they had a fraction of the charisma that Steve has."

Even if Apple wanted to alter the public perception about its CEO, the company would be bucking a practice that's common throughout the tech industry. Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, notes that Silicon Valley tends to be "driven by a cult of personality.

"Apple gets appointed as some kind of a poster child for that," Bajarin said, "but it's not that far off from the normal culture." He points to Scott McNealy's tenure at Sun Microsystems or Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google as examples of other firms where the CEO has been seen as the galvanizing force behind the company. Even Bill Gates remained associated with Microsoft in the public's mind as he began scaling back his role at the company he founded in advance of this summer's retirement.

So the idea that the CEO of a tech company would enjoy a larger-than-life-profile is not unusual--particularly at Apple, where the CEO has always been synonymous with the company.

"It's a cultural style issue that's been in Apple's DNA almost from [the company's] beginning," Bajarin said. "In almost every case--even with [John] Sculley, [Michael] Spindler, [Gil] Amelio, Apple CEOs emerge as the company face and the public image."

The public image is one thing; how the company runs its day-to-day affairs is quite another. And Apple watchers agree that while there's no doubt as to who's in charge--"Everything has to go through Jobs," Hargreaves said--Apple is anything but a one-man operation.

"Apple's an [US]$18 billion company. It didn't get there because of one man," Bajarin said.

Included in those 21,600 employees working at Apple are a number of talented senior executives and product managers who share a common vision for what the company is about. And one of Jobs' talents, according to Bajarin is hiring and grooming talented people who are committed to executing that vision.

"Whoever leads the company is going to have to be part of the Apple culture. You can't come in and learn it," Bajarin said. "To that degree, Steve's doing a great job of building that [cultural acclimation] into his leadership staff. If Wall Street truly understood that the company is driven by both vision and execution, any impact [from a future Jobs' departure] will be minimized."

Jim Dalrymple contributed to this report.


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