Search This Blog

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Steve Jobs and Apple both victims of the Cult of Personality

I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your tv
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three
I’m the cult of personality
Living Colour – The Cult of Personality

Albert Heijn, Alfred Heineken en Steve Jobs: three of the most famous entrepreneurs known in The Netherlands and hugely succesful businessmen. Two Dutch guys and one American.

Albert Heijn, took the “Albert Heyn” grocery stores that were established by his grandfather in The Netherlands and changed them into the multibillion dollar holding company Ahold with several chains of supermarkets that operate in the USA and Europe. Stop & Shop,  Martins and Giant are wellknown labels in the US eastern states and Hypermove, ICA and AH are established names in Europe. During Albert Heijn’s period as CEO of the Ahold group the turnover multiplied by 600 times(!).

The beer brand Heineken was founded in 1864 by the grandfather of Alfred “Freddy” Heineken. Freddy Heineken took the midsized Dutch beer brand and pushed it into the Top 5 of best selling beers in the world, in its heydays only smaller than Anheuser-Busch breweries. His instinctive knowledge of marketing and sales was legendary, as well as his humorous commercials and advertisements in The Netherlands.

Steve Jobs started a small computer company in 1976 and turned it in less than 35 years in a company with 43 billion dollar turnover, based on revolutionary products (i-Pod, i-Phone, iPad and MacBook) and revolutionary marketing concepts (i-Tunes, AppStores). The Apple company is so famous that its followers almost have a religious devotion to the brand and queue up in front of the Apple stores at midnight to be the first to have a new product.

There is, however, one big difference between Freddy Heineken and Albert Heijn on one hand and Steve Jobs on the other: the success of their successors.

After Freddy Heineken retired in 1989, the beer brand called after him remained succesful and while the period of double growth figures is maybe over, the brand remains steady in the top 5 of beer brands in the world.

Ahold went through some difficult periods after Albert Heijn retired in 1989, mainly due to bad top management, creative bookkeeping and bad investments, but eventually the company returned to their success formula. Albert Heijn, although until his death in 2011 very much involved in his company (from a distance), never considered to come back as a CEO.

Apple Inc. is in this case a different story. That has to do with the personality and charisma of the chairman: Apple Inc. is almost synonymous with Steve Jobs and vice versa. After Jobs left the company in 1985, Apple Inc. came into a free fall that almost led to bankruptcy in 1997. The company could only be saved by the return of Steve Jobs in 1997 and a capital injection from Microsoft.

Steve Jobs since 1997 connected one marketing success with another and turned Apple Inc. into the “brand of the decade” (according to AdWeek).

But the charisma and sheer brillance of Steve Jobs has some significant disadvantages, as could be seen at the end of 2008 and again today.

Steve Jobs has been seriously ill and left the company from January until June 2009 to be treated for a rare form of pancrean cancer. Already in October, 2008 there were rumours concerning Steve Jobs health and this resulted in stock prices plummeting afterwards. Although the company had with Q1, 2009 the best non-holiday quarter in history, the stock prices returned only to pre-October levels when Jobs reentered the company in June, 2009. After his return the stock prices skyrocketed again.

Today once again, Steve Jobs called in sick with serious health issues, appointing Tim Cook as a (temporary) successor. The stock prices plummeted between 5-10% this morning (January 18, GMT +1).

You could conclude that Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. are both victims of the Cult of Personality: Apple without Jobs is just another electronics firm with fierce competition in all markets where they operate, but with Jobs it is a company with divine status and an unbeatable track record.

Admitted: the man is a marketing and gizmo genius and the unique quality and look-and-feel of Apple's products is second to none. However, does that mean that the company without the man is worth billions of dollars less?? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.

What can Apple learn from the famous Dutch CEO’s Heineken and Albert Heijn? Three things:
-   a good CEO is extremely hard to find;
-   a brilliant CEO is even harder to find and it might just be impossible;
-   but on the other hand… NOBODY is irreplaceable, as long as you not try to replace the person himself.

You could say that you can judge a company by the quality of the CEO’s successors. In that way the future of Apple looks bleak nowadays. It might look brighter one year from now, when the company will now start seriously looking for a successor for Steve Jobs.

In the meantime all Apple shareholders should hope and pray for a safe return of Steve Jobs in the not-to-distant future.


No comments:

Post a Comment