Is Apple's Design Deity Leaving? No More iMacs, iPhones, and iPads?

Last Updated Feb 28, 2011 2:19 PM EST

Those Apple (AAPL) fans who have been worried about the prospect of their beloved company without CEO Steve Jobs actually have a much bigger problems on the horizon: industrial design head Jonathan Ive could leave.

Given that he was responsible for the ultimate look and feel of the iMac, iPhone, and iPad, that would be a big loss. And it raises the question of who else might have the wherewithal to keep the flow of product innovation going.

Apparently golden handcuffs from 2008 in the form of stock grants are about to drop, freeing Ive to realize a $25 million payday, made possible largely because the devices he spearheaded have cranked up Apple's stock.

Ive a huge dilemma for Apple
Ive and his wife are both from England and they want to return to raise their children there. The problem is that Apple's board doesn't like the idea of him working from London, so it and Ive are at "loggerheads" over his commuting from the U.K.

From a management view, you can understand the board's quandary. Ive is a singular design genius who also has been able to manage a team to create iconic products. That sort of talent may be irreplaceable. However, to manage a group from another continent and get the close type of collaboration and attention that must be necessary for results would be a challenge at best and impossible at worst. To keep Ive might not get the effort the company needs, and the choice would rule out a search for a replacement.

On the other hand, Ive is said to be practically symbiotic with Jobs. So, what if the rumors that Jobs has terminal cancer are true? That could be another reason that Ive might want to create distance from the company, as being there could be a painful reminder.

The thought that Apple would immediately fall apart with the loss of Jobs is naive. But if the company lost both men? A very different -- and difficult -- situation.

Related: Image: morgueFile user cohdra, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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