Will Steve Jobs' Leave Upset the Apple Cart?

Last Updated Jan 21, 2011 3:00 PM EST

Will Steve Jobs Leave Upset the Apple CartApple CEO Steve Jobs seems to be adept at dodging bullets:
The last time Steve Jobs took that medical leave shrouded in spy-like secrecy, there was a firestorm of second guessing by the media: Steve Jobs Should Step Down from Apple and Should Apple Be Disclosing More About Steve Jobs's Health? for example.

But when the dust settled, the world didn't fall apart. Jobs returned and remained CEO; COO Tim Cook got a big bonus; and Apple's revenues, profits, and share price continued to defy gravity.

Here we go again.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty tired of all the media hype and second guessing. That said, I recognize that, as the nation's second biggest company by market value and the developer of all manner of insanely great products, Apple's a hugely important company and we'd all like to see it stay that way. Unfortunately, that's pretty unlikely to happen.

In, Why Great Companies Don't Stay Great, we found the whole concept of perpetually great companies to be flawed ... if not entirely fictitious. In spite of great leaders, innovative products, and corporate culture, a ridiculous number of factors influence a company's behavior and performance.

Here are 6 Factors That Keep Great Companies From Staying Great:

  1. It doesn't take much to upset the Apple-cart. It takes a crazy number of highly unlikely factors to come together to make a great leader running a successful company, but removing just one of those factors could upset the whole damn Apple cart.
  2. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investing 101. Every time you roll the dice, the odds of lucky 7 - or crapping out - are exactly the same.
  3. Great leaders are flesh and blood humans. And great companies are, likewise, made of fragile, fallible, people. And people have issues, weaknesses, and most importantly, they change over time due to a myriad of personal factors that have absolutely nothing to do with work.
  4. Entropy always wins. That's a paraphrase of the second law of thermodynamics, in case you were wondering. Also s**t happens, things change, etc.
  5. Everybody wants a bite of the Apple. Even if a CEO manages to create a culture that fosters innovation, execution and all that, his successors still have the challenge of continuing to scale and grow the company, maintaining market share, and creating hot new products, all in the face of staggeringly challenging global competition. Tough stuff.
  6. All organisms and organizations live, grow, whither, and die. To paraphrase Darwin's theory of natural selection, "Only the fittest survive, but just long enough to have a little fun. Then they die too."
Bottom line. While the corporate graveyards are filled with hundreds of once-great companies that flamed out, there still a few that have stood the test of time. They've survived entropy, human frailty, competition, and constantly changing market conditions. IBM, GE, and Procter & Gamble come to mind.

Compared with these companies, Apple's still a youngster with more challenges ahead than behind. Steve Jobs, his management team, and Apple's board must face each one at a time and to the best of their abilities. With respect to this latest challenge, I think they're doing exactly that and we should all wish them well.

After that, it's all a roll of the dice.

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Image courtesy Flickr user srqpix