Many of my colleagues have written beautiful tributes to the life and legacy of Steve Jobs. As I wrote in my blog when he retired, his absence will be felt. Rather than repeating myself, and piling on with another eulogy, I'd like to turn to current Apple CEO Tim Cook and the challenge that lies before him.
For years, Cook and Jobs have worked hand-in-hand to ensure that creative genius is backed by the pinpoint accuracy of a well-oiled supply chain. Consider this: Product launches usually comprise lines snaking outside Apple stores, partners furiously prepping their sales teams, and online customers hitting refresh repeatedly, to be there at the very second that ordering starts. It is Cook's job to ensure every product, retailer, Web page and tech team member are ready to support Jobs' newest creation.
This is his mastery, according to industry pundits. As chief operating officer and now as CEO, he has managed the flow from design to manufacturing to distribution to sales with brilliance. Apple's $76 billion in cash on hand (as of July business reports) prove that he has optimized this global process to the nth degree.
As focused as Jobs was on "magically" transforming the elegant design and simple functionality of a product into customer desire, Cook has seemed equally obsessed with the importance of meeting product deadlines, monitoring the pipeline, satisfying partner requests, and harvesting sales data to forecast demand for the next release.
With Jobs gone, Cook will have to lead both sides of this tricky coin. He will need enough vision to set out an engaging product roadmap and then navigate the treacherous waters that course brings. Imagine, CFOs, not only being in charge of fiscal discipline and other such demands, but also charting the overall path of your company. Sound daunting? I'll bet it does.
Before news of Jobs' passing was released, Cook was already being criticized for the lackluster announcement of the latest iPhone.
But Jobs himself, as he told Stanford graduates during a 2005 commencement address, lost his fear of failure. "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
I hope that Tim Cook can find wisdom and comfort in these words, and that Apple fans and the industry as a whole will give him the time and support he needs to feel out the wheel, get his bearings and continue on with the voyage that Jobs so wondrously began.
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