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Apple without Jobs: Who's next?

'Frustratingly obtuse' succession plans

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Shareholder revolt

One Apple investor, the Central Laborers' Pension Fund of Jacksonville, Illinois, holder of 11,484 Apple shares, isn't waiting for SEC clarification. Apple's proxy statement of January 7 of this year notes that the Fund has placed before Apple's stockholders a proposal to be voted on at next month's investors meeting that would require Apple to detail its succession plan.

That proposal reads, in part, "Resolved: That the shareholders of Apple ... hereby request that the Board of Directors initiate the appropriate process to amend the Company's Corporate Governance Guidelines to adopt and disclose a written and detailed succession planning policy."

As might be expected, Apple's board of directors has recommended that shareholders vote that proposal down: "The Company recognizes that a highly talented and experienced management team, not just the CEO, is critical to Apple's success. Accordingly, the Board already implements many of the proposed actions and maintains a comprehensive succession plan throughout the organization."

Apple's board has a plan. They simply don't want to make it public. "The Company takes succession planning seriously," the proxy statement says, "and the Board has adopted a comprehensive process to ensure continuity and maintain the superior quality of its management team."

Should Jobs not return, his most likely replacement, it appears, would be Cook. During Jobs' 2009 absence, Apple's stock value rose about 70 per cent – a fact that is certainly not lost on either Apple's board or its investors.

Beyond Cook, however, Apple's management team doesn't include another obvious contender. Although Schiller was a more than capable stand-in for Jobs when announcing products and leading the faithful in morale-boosting events, it's unlikely that he has the technical prowess to lead the company in product planning or the operational expertise to manage day-to-day operations.

Famed product designer Jonathan Ive is certainly a visionary when it comes to creating highly marketable and iconic hardware, but his capability as a corporate leader is unknown.

The man behind the meteoric rise of iOS, Scott Forstall, may have the technical chops to inspire Apple's software engineers, and Apple's hardware honcho Bob Mansfield would command respect from the nuts-and-bolts crew, but neither have Cook's day-to-day operational experience and successful track record.

And then there are the ones that got away. Avie Tevanian and Jon Rubinstein, for example, both of whom joined Apple from Jobs' previous company, NeXT, in February 1997, and both of whom left in March 2006.

Tevanian was the brains behind the Mac OS X team. He was elevated to chief technology officer in July 2003, at which point Bertrand Serlet – another ex-NeXT employee – took over as head of software engineering.

Tevanian may not have had the managerial chops to have ever taken over as Apple CEO, but an argument could have been made for Rubinstein – if he had remained at Apple.

Rubinstein was famously the father of the iPod, and he shepherded the development of the company-saving iMac, a process during which he acquired a reputation as an efficient manager.

After leaving Apple, Rubinstein took over at Palm, where he managed the development of that company's ill-fated Pre smartphone and the phone's operating system, webOS.

When Palm was acquired by HP in April 2010, Rubinstein continued to run that division, which is now expected to release a webOS-based tablet – among other products – on February 9.

If Jobs is involved in picking his successor, however, don't expect him to give Rubinstein a call. Last November, when asked if Jobs was miffed when his former hardware headman had joined competitor Palm, Rubinstein answered: "I'm definitely off the Christmas list."

It may be premature to speculate about Jobs' replacement – he may very well again have the opportunity to tell an admiring crowd "I'm vertical, I'm back at Apple" – but it's not at all too early to conclude that with his latest medical leave, Apple will be under pressure to be more open about their succession plan – one that The Wall Street Journal has referred to as "frustratingly obtuse."

The inside track for the position of Apple's next CEO belongs to Tim Cook – that is, unless the board of directors pulls a Larry Ellison and brings in an experienced outsider such as Ellison did with Mark Hurd, late of HP.

eBay's ex, Meg Whitman, for example, is available. After all, she flopped in her most recent job interview. ®

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