That, I suspect, was the feeling in Cupertino this week after the news arrived that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had died.
Whenever I visited the headquarters in Silicon Valley, I found myself wondering: is Steve here? And if so, what is he doing? From friends who worked at Apple, I heard the stories about how his intense criticism of a product's design could reduce people to tears, spurring them to radically improve it (or causing them to seek work with a boss who was less involved and less demanding.) Every Steve Jobs keynote I ever witnessed in person was pervaded by a feeling of electric anticipation as the audience waited for Jobs to appear. What would the astonishing "one more thing" be today?
Apple in the second era of Jobs — when he returned as CEO in 1997, after a 12-year exile — was a company that, for journalists and the public, really only had five employees. Above all, there was Jobs. In his shadow were his understudy Tim Cook; chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer; head designer Jonathan Ive; and marketing chief Phil Schiller. Basically, no one else took the stage at Apple's tightly-scripted product introductions, and no one else spoke to journalists. Whenever you requested an interview with any of the other denizens of the Emerald City, you didn't exactly need to wait by the phone for a call back.
So the big question about Apple's future isn't, to me, about continuing its string of hit products. It's about the people. No one at the company wants the vacuum Jobs has left to be filled right away. But as the company moves on, will it require another wizard — another visionary-in-chief — to succeed? (Disney drifted for almost two decades following Walt's death, before Michael Eisner appeared.) Or can it reorient itself as a team-driven company, where not every idea originates at the top, and people other than the upper echelon can be recognized for their contributions?
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
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