In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s already one year since Steve Jobs died. From all accounts he could be a real jerk, but there’s no denying his place in the world, especially the technological one. As I type this article on my Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMac, he’s made my world a little easier — and for that I’m extremely grateful.
Business media of all stripes find themselves pontificating about the new Apple and the changes it has undergone since the late founder’s passing. The truth is, change was under way long before Jobs stepped down as CEO, in August 2011. Two year earlier, Tim Cook temporarily took the helm when Jobs was off on medical leave for a liver transplant So, Cook was well aware of the job requirements before permanently stepping into the role last fall.
In that regard I don’t think much has changed at the top.
Since the death of Jobs, Apple’s stock price sure hasn’t suffered. It’s up slightly less than 80%, more than double the S&P 500.
Still, I can think of no other company that generates in me such conflicted feelings. In the past year, I’ve written a few articles about Apple, including my disagreement over its stance on the repatriation of overseas income. I love its products but dislike its corporate philosophy on taxes, overseas jobs, etc.
If I could put my finger on the biggest change at Apple since the death of Jobs, it would be that the company appears to have become the big, corporate entity we forgot it was. Delivering a three-year, $45 billion share repurchase and ongoing quarterly dividend, Apple signaled to the world that it’s not much different from any other large-cap company.
Jobs was a lot of things, but corporate wasn’t one of them. Cook is more of a suit, and that’s OK.
From a customer perspective, the introduction of the iPhone 5 as well as the new iPad makes it abundantly clear that in terms of delivering great products, Apple hasn’t lost its touch. The notable exception being Apple Maps, which Cook quickly apologized for, admitting it was a product launched that wasn’t ready for prime time.
This single act of being more sensitive to customer gripes has likely won Apple even more fans. Being more corporate means it cares about the customer in a way that Jobs never could. Apple has become a more open and transparent company, which is good for employees and shareholders alike.
Most of what’s changed at Apple in the past year will help it deal with all the responsibility that comes with being the world’s largest company. Where it faces its biggest challenge is being able to develop products that are as innovative as the one’s developed under Jobs.
Cook has shown in the past year that he is much more of an inclusive manager than Jobs ever was. Stress levels appear to have been ratcheted down; most employees will get the entire week of Thanksgiving off, a sign the company wants its people to achieve a more balanced life. I’d be shocked if Cook hasn’t read his fair share of management guru Peter Drucker.
I would characterize most of the changes as cosmetic in nature with the biggest being a corporate shift that appears scripted by its marketing and human resources departments. Jobs wasn’t easy to work for; Cook is. Whether that can keep the ball rolling up the hill will depend on how creative its engineers are in the next 12 to 24 months.
One year later, that’s probably the biggest question that remains.
As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.