Jobs Leaves as Apple CEO -- and Takes the Magic with Him

Last Updated Aug 25, 2011 9:13 AM EDT

An Apple (AAPL) without Steve Jobs at the head? Given how long the man has been at the forefront of technology and entertainment, it seems almost inconceivable. And yet, that is what has just happened: Jobs resigned as CEO of the company he loved more than any other.

It's a time for reflection, sure. And there's time for sad irony as well. The man who helped birth the PC era more than 30 years ago recently and rightly declared the beginning of its end. (Here's a brief history of the man and his influence.)

But no one runs a company forever. And Jobs has been seriously ill for years. So as he steps aside, what's in store for Apple?

Jobs built a powerful team, with COO Tim Cook his successor. In his resignation letter, Jobs wrote:
I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.
Apple still has the designers, the programmers, the engineers, and the managers that created one phenomenally successful product after another, many of which are still reshaping computing, communications, and entertainment. The company has nothing to fear in the short or even medium term.

But it's impossible to completely discount the nagging feeling that Jobs simply can't be replaced. He was the embodiment of the idea that personal computing had to be about much more than technical capabilities:
I've said this before, but thought it was worth repeating: It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.
Forget the word magical for a moment. Forget the controlling Steve Jobs. Forget the temper tantrums. Forget, even, the unerring sense of what would please his customers.

His genius laid in knowing that business is part of existence, and that life needs both mind and heart. Jobs was a man on a mission, whether you agreed with it -- or his means of getting there -- or not.

Infusing business and technology with art
Some companies can get along well after a seminal figure is gone. Until Thomas Watson renamed the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation as International Business Machines, IBM didn't exist. Yet it still thrives decades after Watson's death. Despite ups and downs, the Ford Motor Company has well outlived its founder Henry Ford.

Those companies, and others that have lasted over time, were the product of determination and drive. Maybe business genius. Jobs brought all that, without doubt -- but he also married them with an aesthetic principle that is almost impossible to find elsewhere in business. Who else has taken a company of Apple's size and driven the growth of a start-up? Who else has built a commercial behemoth that customers loved with a passion usually reserved for religious experience?

The company will go on, and as chairman of the board, Jobs will still have his influence. But it is waning, and eventually Apple will become just another corporation. Successful? Sure. Daring? Maybe. (In earlier Jobs-less days, Apple has certainly failed on that front before.) But Jobs takes an essential magic with him.

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  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    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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