When Steve Jobs walked onto the stage at an Apple event last Wednesday morning in San Francisco, two things rose. The audience gave Jobs a standing ovation, and Apple Inc. stock gained $2.81.
Jobs is God. We know this. But he might be on his way out, and that $2.81 increase shows we’re not ready for it, even if Apple is.
The ovation notwithstanding, the ailing CEO wasn’t there to perform. He was there to unveil the iPad 2, which will ship internationally on March 25 and is thinner than your left eyelid. But the mere sight of him, in his trademark black turtleneck, jeans and cross-trainers, sent a nation of consumers into gleeful conniptions. How can Jobs, who’s on his third medical leave in seven years and has become a mere shadow in Apple’s leadership, remain the face of a $75 billion empire? And what will happen when that shadow disappears altogether?
Nothing. Apple will continue to dominate the consumer electronics market after its cofounder is gone, and the ingenious ideas that have propelled it to mind-numbing success since 1996 will continue to spout from its creative core, turtleneck or no.
Yet if Steve Jobs were to leave Apple tomorrow, almost every American with a share of Apple stock would take a step back and think, “What’s going to happen after iPad 2?”
This is a valid question in some respects, since Jobs has been the brain behind all of Apple’s innovations over the last 15 years. But let’s have a little faith. Let’s sit back and watch ourselves devour the iPad 2, which will account for 20 million tablet sales and 83 percent of the U.S. market this year. Let’s let Apple serenade us with catchy commercial tunes; let’s drown in the sea of iPad and iPhone apps; let’s “ooh” and “ahh” at the brilliant displays in Apple stores. And let’s continue to watch millions of iPods leave the shelves each Christmas.
Regardless of how much longer Steve Jobs is going to be around — his exact condition remains undisclosed, but he’s suffered previously from pancreatic cancer and had a liver transplant in 2009 - Apple isn’t a hometown bakery. It has 46,000 full-time employees, including Acting CEO Timothy Cook, who piloted the company through Jobs’ first two medical leaves in 2004 and 2009. It no doubt has a nucleus of leaders handpicked by Jobs and so collectively creative that it could turn the moon into a giant iPod application if it wanted to.
America’s inclination to place Steve Jobs on a pedestal is understandable. He’s withdrawn so far from the typical CEO image, with his pedestrian clothing and public modesty, that we now think of him as the nerdy fellow from next door with all the gadgets, not a greedy corporate tyrant or self-absorbed California mogul. His absence from the limelight has fostered this “Average Joe” perception and strengthened our confidence in his leadership of Apple. Even though we know he’s seriously ill, our worries are always pacified when he surfaces at a talk or product unveiling.
We need to move away from the idea that Jobs is the Messiah. He’s a genius, and he’s certainly the driving force behind Apple, but with or without him, the company will pump out iPad 3, and then iPad 4.
Moreover, Jobs isn’t as down to earth as he may seem. In 1997 he eliminated all of Apple’s corporate philanthropy programs in order to cut costs temporarily, and has not reinstated a philanthropic division at the company since. With a net worth of $5.1 billion as of 2008, he’s the 43rd-wealthiest American. In addition to 5.426 million shares of Apple, he also owns 138 million shares of Disney stock. Yet despite his vast personal wealth, he’s neglected to publicly engage in charitable activities, as fellow billionaires like Bill Gates have done. The point here is not that Jobs is a heartless corporate pig, just that he may not be all that he appears to be — when he appears at all.
Whether or not Steve Jobs is as close to the average American as his public image suggests, and whether or not his illness will pull him down from Apple’s throne in the near future, we, his consumers, can be confident that his company will not waver. Apple’s not going anywhere.
But personally, I’m hanging onto my BlackBerry.
Ari Comart is a College senior from Needham, Mass.