Apple Company: Change in Leadership After Steve Jobs

Abstract

Steve Jobs is irreplaceable. His visionary leadership led Apple to become the largest company in the sphere of technological research and innovation. Jobs maintained an ideology of simplicity and confidence in one’s own actions, and despite the fact that his way of leading a company could be considered totalitarian and untransparent, what he had managed to do for Apple was priceless. However, with the unfortunate passing of Jobs, the company had to face a new style of leadership integrated by Tim Cook, whose way of leading is far from being simple. Nevertheless, it is essential to note that Apple has not lost its relevance and with the introduction of new products and the improvement of public relations efforts, the company remains in the top and continues to grow. This paper focuses on exploring the characteristics of Steve Jobs’ leadership and comparing them to Cook’s style to determine how leadership at Apple has changed since the new CEO overtook the position. It was found that the two leaders were very different in their approaches to leading the company; however, this does not mean that either of them is better than the other.

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The article headings of the most respected news outlets such as Huffington Post, The Guardian, Fortune, Forbes, and others have been adamant at underlining the fact that without the leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple has changed dramatically and for the worse. However, despite many predictions that without Jobs Apple would face some serious turmoil and decline in growth, the company continues to innovate and challenge its competitors, remaining among the most successful tech corporations in the world. Since Steve Jobs’ unfortunate passing, the company has been expected to go through a series of changes in organizational culture because Tim Cook’s leadership is far from his predecessor’s. It is noteworthy to mention that Apple is left without Jobs for the second time because he had already abandoned the company in 1985 due to the leadership clash between him and former CEO Sculley (Rexaline, 2017). Upon his return to the company in 1996, Jobs proposed a new plan to turnaround the business, which led to Apple becoming a unique corporation under visionary leadership. However, unfortunately, Jobs is unable to return to the company to save the day now, which means that the changes that the company has undergone since his death are expected to last and possibly influence Cook’s successors.

Analyzing how Apple has changed under the leadership of Tim Cook is important for showing how different styles of leadership can influence organizational cultures and contribute to success. In this paper, the leadership of Steve Jobs will be compared to Tim Cook’s style to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the CEOs’ styles. It is important to mention that critics have underlined the fact that without Jobs, both Apple products and the organization’s culture lost its simplicity without losing customers, which is an interesting paradigm that suggests that either style of leadership can work. Also, one should not forget that it was Jobs himself who had “handpicked Cook to be Apple’s next leader,” which means that the latter was provided with valuable information on how the company could be run efficiently, as mentioned by Seagall (2016) from The Guardian (para. 4). On the other hand, Jobs also understood that Cook would not lead the company in the same way since he did not have as many leadership talents and usually relied on the expertise of others when it comes to those areas of practice in which he was less experienced. For instance, while Jobs was extremely passionate about marketing and product design, Cook hires professionals in these fields, which often complicates matters.

This paper will focus on examining Apple’s success under the visionary leadership of Steve Jobs with the current state of affairs in the company, which is led by Tim Cook. A literature review of relevant articles will be provided to show experts’ attitudes toward leadership in Apple and evaluate trends that either support or critique the new style integrated by Tim Cook. Also, a case study analysis of leadership trends at Apple will be presented in order to show examples of how the company can change under the leadership of different executives.

Literature Review

Steve Jobs’ Leadership

Steve Jobs was an innovator and entrepreneur who managed to revolutionize the industry of technologies and make consumers thunder for Apple products. Jobs “won over an entire planet with stunning designs, technically complex and yet simple to use” (Kalla, 2012, para. 2). This quote characterizes the way in which Jobs led the company – while he needed to address the complicated management tasks to make a large tech company successful, his approach was unique in its simplicity. Key advice that any leader can get from Job’s model is simplicity, innovation, control of the experience, and confidence. His innovative vision was what challenged employees and management to think of the future and have a clear idea of where the company is going. In addition, Steve Jobs was successful in showcasing how important confidence was both with his individual efforts and the products he had released.

The immense sense of confidence that Jobs had exhibited gave his team members self-assurance, facilitating the break of barriers and the creation of famous pieces of technology that competitors could not top. When speaking of Jobs’ leadership style, it is crucial to talk about simplicity that can be traced to any part of Apple’s operations – from streamlined product designs to the way the company was led. The appreciation for simplicity can be attributed to Jobs’ practice of Buddhism, which influenced him deeply. Jobs said that Buddhism allowed him to stir his sensibilities and seek enlightenment not only in personal life but also in business: the intense focus on the outcome and minimalists aesthetics. Apart from simplicity, which was a key characteristic of Jobs’ leadership, it is important to speak about him taking responsibility for both failures and successes of products and experiences that Apple offered its customers. The compulsion to take responsibility was rooted in Jobs’ character that struggled with delegating important assignments to other people.

While employees, partners, and friends have said that Jobs’ style of leadership was autocratic and sometimes even arrogant, it is impossible to deny that he had exceptional qualities of a true leader that could inspire and gain trust. Not only did Jobs have a vision of where Apple was going but he also had a higher purpose for the company and its products (Segall, 2016). Thus, despite possible difficulties and conflicts that Jobs facilitated, his legacy would forever be associated with transformational leadership that contributed to Apple’s expansion of the world’s tech industry.

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Tim Cook’s Leadership

While many critics were skeptical about Tim Cook becoming the CEO of Apple after Jobs’ unfortunate passing, the former proved everyone wrong and showed that he was more than competent of taking the company on a completely new level. Important takeaways that leaders can learn from Cook’s leadership style are associated with transparency, diversity, belief in one’s actions, and the ability to take risks. One of the most admirable qualities of Cook is his humbleness and the desire to get closer to consumers; he visits Apple stores and talks to his customers or reads feedback online to work on product improvement. Apple’s CEO recognizes the importance of diversity and hires different-minded employees who can enrich the company with their contributions. It is noteworthy to mention that transparency in leadership set Cook apart from his predecessor; when confronted with criticism on how Apple employees are treated around the world, the CEO decided to “open up the doors to the public and allow them to see how Apple’s operation really works” (Morello, 2016, para. 27). Since taking the role of the Chief Executive Officer, Tim Cook has continuously shown that his leadership style is much milder compared to Jobs’; however, it may be down to the fact that he inherited Apple from a strong leader who built the company and made it adaptable to any type of leaders that could follow.

Change in Leadership

While some of the key aspects of Tim Cook’s leadership have been briefly discussed, it is not important to look at the overall changes in the company to determine whether his new leadership style had any contribution to those changes. One of the first moves of Cook as a new CEO of Apple was the attempt to expand the company’s mergers and acquisitions department as well as capitalize on Apple’s status as not only a technology but also a luxury brand. To help him with this task, cook hired Angela Ahrendts from Burberry and Paul Deneve from Yves Saint Laurent (Vox, 2015). Also, the release of the Apple Watch with a wide price attracted customers from all sectors; those who want to be a part of the brand but did not have enough funds can buy a watch for around $300 while those who are into luxury can pay up to $17,000 (Vox, 2015). This move differentiated the company from competitors and made the Apple Watch the most sold watch in the world.

Apart from investing in innovation and coming up with new ways, Apple has transformed its corporate culture under the influence of Tim Cook’s leadership. The first change in this sphere was that both internal and external culture at Apple has become more collaborative, which is different to the pursuit of secrecy associated with Jobs’ leadership. While important security measures are still put in place, the new CEO initiated the breaking down of the secrecy walls in order to enhance collaboration with customers. Cook recognized that in order to achieve top performance for Apple’s software, hardware, and services, the compartmentalization of information and departments was ineffective. Because of this, the leader encouraged collaboration within the company and beyond it. The second change is associated with Apple becoming more shareholder-friendly, which means that the company’s investors can now have more freedom to express their opinions regarding Apple’s direction since previously they were only tolerated due to mere necessity. Unlike Cook, Steve Jobs was against returning capital to the company’s shareholders and had an unreasonable tendency to hoard cash. The newly-integrated program of capital return is very friendly to shareholders; for instance, in June 2016, the company returned $177 billion to its shareholders that have accumulated from share repurchases and dividends.

The third noticeable change in Apple under Tim Cook’s leadership is the fact that the company became more engaged with the media, which is different to the stonewall strategy that Jobs used to follow. Nowadays, every article about Apple is accompanied by an official statement from the company’s representatives. When Cook got the position of Apple’s CEO, he had a clear strategy in mind to change the way the company interacts with media outlets. However, this change was not received as well as expected; Apple’s longtime head of Public Relationship department, Katie Cotton, retired because of the significant shift in leadership and the way the new CEO wanted the company to be perceived (Niu, 2016).

Another change in leadership was attributed to the company becoming more socially responsible, which is an important factor that influences the way in which the company is perceived by the public. Cook is currently contributing to addressing issues of human rights within Apple’s supply chain, implementing charitable programs, and enhancing the company’s efforts in becoming environmentally responsible. Therefore, it is clear that Apple has shown growth in the department of social responsibility. However, it is important to mention that when Jobs was the CEO of Apple, the company was more focused on product development, which does not mean that there were no social responsibility efforts.

Lastly, it is essential to mention that Apple’s profitability increased significantly when Cook took the lead. In 2011, the company’s financial performance was modest. Before Jobs’ death, Apple could boast of $81.6 billion in the balance sheet. However, in 2016, the sales skyrocketed and stood at $220 billion of 12-month sales only. These numbers speak for themselves; despite Jobs being an irreplaceable leader that brought the company on a level of being respected globally, Cook has also made some substantiate contributions with his leadership to ensure that Apple continues its growth.

Many researchers and newspaper columnists agree that the newly-integrated leadership framework that Cook follows today would have been accepted well by Jobs. For instance, the “kinder, gentler PR image” goes against the leadership framework introduced by Jobs who was extremely secretive and sometimes vengeful in his attitudes toward public relationships (Dormehl, 2015, para. 4). In addition to the corporate culture changes, Jobs would not have liked to delegate responsibilities to a vast team, with which Cook has surrounded himself. The new Apple CEO has managed to gather a team of professionals that can share his workload and come up with new ideas (Morello, 2016). While Cook has an approach of trusting others and understands that he does not know everything as a leader, Jobs preferred not to hand out important workload to others.

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Case Study Analysis

For the purpose of this paper, it was chosen to analyze a case study “Steve Jobs and modern leadership” prepared by Toma and Marinescu (2013). In the case study, the authors focused on exploring the topic of leadership through providing examples of how Jobs led his company and contributed to the development of modern leadership trends in organizational settings. It was shown that the example of Steve Jobs and his transformational leadership was the most important factor in turning around Apple as a company and making it known worldwide.

When discussing this case study, it is essential first to understand the notion of leadership, which does not have one solid definition since research on this topic can encompass a wide range of academic fields such as business, psychology, education, and many more others (Toma and Marinescu, 2013). Leadership refers to activities of influencing one’s followers for pursuing a course of action, and Steve Jobs’ leadership was associated with offering his followers and insight to the future of the company and to inspire them with his vision. In its essence, the way in which Jobs led Apple was characterized by a profound connection between him and the company, with one influencing another and vice versa. Important takeaways from the case study are associated with the characteristics of Jobs as a representative of modern leadership. It should be mentioned that his personality was an essential component of the way Jobs approach business, and despite his roughness when communicating with employees, he managed to gather a unique team that had the same vision of the company. In addition, Jobs was a perfectionist and was profoundly interested in Zen training as a strategy to promote simplicity in his actions.

It is evident that the characteristics of Jobs described in the case study did not align with Cooks’ approach toward leadership. Nevertheless, Cook’s public outreach and investment into transparency within organizational culture allowed him to become a new model of a modern leader. In comparison with Cook, Jobs was more focused on innovation and streamlining the products and marking efforts that Apple implemented; today, the company is far more diverse in promoting itself, getting feedback from the public, hiring the best professionals in the field, and improving its public image. Have it not been for Cook, Apple could not have reached the level of growth that it is showing today.

Conclusion

Everyone can agree that Steve Jobs was an irreplaceable leader whose contribution to Apple was priceless. He led the company with a firm hand and facilitated innovation in the field to make his brand the most powerful in the world. The analysis of his leadership strategy showed that Jobs was extremely confident, liked to control the experience of his customers, streamlined processes to achieve simplicity, and had a goal of continuous innovation through his leadership. It is evident that Steve Jobs had a talent for inspiring his subordinates and making them eager to achieve the goals he had set for them; some employees have even commented that despite Jobs’ volatile character and leadership, he had a clear vision of the future, which is something that Apple today significantly lacks (“The Steve Jobs effect: Former Apple employees say culture changed for the worse after Jobs,” 2017). It is important to understand that there are no leaders who are the same, which means that Tim Cook’s contributions should not be overlooked.

Since Cook got the position of Apple’s CEO, he focused on predominantly changing the organizational culture to build up the brand’s reputation among consumers and potential partners. While the company may have lost a clear vision that Steve Jobs had, it is evident that Apple has become more approachable in its attitudes toward Public Relationships. Cook understood that his success as Apple’s executive would be impossible without the involvement of professionals in the field; therefore, the hiring of Burberry’s and YSL’s former CEOs has become a key step toward differentiating the present leader of the company from the former. Today, Apple is far more open to a conversation with its consumers, giving back to shareholders who have invested in the company, promoting the message of transparency, and being a socially responsible organization that understands the value of supporting communities.

The investigation of Steve Jobs’ and Tim Cook’s leadership styles should be concluded with the statement that these two leaders should not be compared since their contributions to the company are completely different. Moreover, Cook became the CEO after Jobs’ approval, which means that there is no more qualified candidate to take this position than the current Apple’s leader. While Jobs was a visionary leader, Cook applied a situational approach to his leadership and got the assistance of top experts in the field. There is no doubt that leadership in Apple has changed since Jobs’ passing and it will probably never be the same like it used to be with Jobs. However, Apple continues to grow, expand, and bring new products to the market that competitors still cannot exceed.

References

Dormehl, L. (2015). 7 things Steve Jobs would have hated about Apple today. Web.

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Kalla, S. (2012). 10 leadership tips from Steve Jobs. Forbes. Web.

Morello, P. (2016). 11 leadership lessons we can learn from Tim Cook. Web.

Niu, E. (2016). 5 years later, 5 ways Apple has changed without Steve Jobs. Web.

Rexaline, S. (2017). Why rehiring Steve Jobs was the best move Apple ever made. Web.

Segall, K. (2016). Has Apple lost its simplicity? The Guardian. Web.

The Steve Jobs effect: Former Apple employees say culture changed for the worse after Jobs. (2017). Web.

Toma, S-G., & Marinescu, P. (2013). Steve Jobs and modern leadership. Change and Leadership, 17, 260-269.

Vox. (2015). How has Tim Cook changed Apple since the death of Steve Jobs? Web.

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