Apple doesn't need Jobs, analyst says

If Jobs stepped down, Tim Cook, currently chief operating officer, would run the company, analyst predicts.

Apple doesn't need Steve Jobs, an analyst argued Monday.

Early on Friday, Apple shares slid below US$100 for the first time since May 2007 after a false report circulated that Apple's 53-year-old CEO had suffered a major heart attack. The report, posted on iReport.com, a "citizen journalist" Web site operated by CNN, was quickly denied by Apple, but not before the share price had slid nearly 11 percent.

The panic was unwarranted, said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research Inc.

"Apple doesn't need Jobs anymore," Gottheil said. "He's established three sound businesses -- Mac, iPod and the iPhone -- and the company knows how to execute his fanatical devotion to design and usability. There's a stable management team in place, and they know what they're doing."

Investors have been nervous about Jobs' health since last June, when he appeared gaunt at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. Although company spokespeople said Jobs was under the weather from a "common bug," his appearance fueled speculation that he was again seriously ill, a reference to Jobs' 2004 announcement that he had had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his pancreas. Jobs in July told The New York Times that he is healthy.

Since then, other incidents, including the accidental posting of Jobs' obituary by Bloomberg financial news service in August, have caused investors to question the company's future sans Jobs.

They shouldn't be so worried, said Gottheil. "Without Jobs, Apple would have to pay a lot more to get the world's attention," he said, referring to the CEO's knack for promoting his company's products. "But he's got a company and a brand and an organization and a strategy in place. There's no reason to think that those things can't be carried forward without him."

If Jobs stepped down, Tim Cook, currently chief operating officer, would run the company, Gottheil said. Cook ran Apple while Jobs out in 2004 after his cancer surgery. Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior vice president for industrial design, would pick up the reins on product design.

The July hiring of former Segway chief technology officer Doug Field as Apple's new vice president of design, Gottheil speculated, is an attempt by Apple to free up Ive to take on a more strategic view of product design.

That's not to say that Apple wouldn't be different. It would play things more conservatively without Jobs, Gottheil believes. "It may not be able to make the inspired guesses that created the iPod and the iPhone," he said. But those leaps aren't necessary for Apple to continue. "We believe that sort of risk-taking is no longer necessary, and the current management can build very effectively on what Jobs has created," Gottheil added.

And Gottheil is realistic to know that Apple's shares will invariably take a hit when Jobs does leave the company. "All this is not to say that the market won't react. Investors will certainly panic until they see proof that the management team can continue," he said.

"But I see Apple after Jobs as Ford after Henry Ford," Gottheil said. "The acolytes have incorporated the main teachings of Jobs. He's created a process and a culture that will continue."

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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