Even though Apple is one of the most profitable companies on earth, is it actually in decline? This is the question Steve Blank addresses in this article. His basic premise is that Tim Cook of Apple, like Steve Balmer at Microsoft before him, is excellent at execution but lacks an essential element that propels truly great companies – vision.
Whether you believe that Apple is in long-term trouble or not, the comparison with Microsoft under Ballmer is an interesting one that bears discussion. The tension between the operational excellence and the transformational growth sides of large companies has been researched and documented extensively and it is a tension that seems inevitable with any very successful company that is changing leadership.
Some interesting excerpts from the article that argue this point:
- … if the purpose of (Microsoft) is long-term survival, then one could make a much better argument that (Ballmer) was a failure as a CEO as he optimized short-term gains by squandering long-term opportunities.
- (Microsoft’s) misses weren’t in some tangential markets – missing search, mobile and the cloud were directly where Microsoft users were heading… Ballmer and Microsoft failed because the CEO was a world-class executor (a Harvard grad and world-class salesman) of an existing business model trying to manage in a world of increasing change and disruption
- The parallel between Gates and Ballmer and Jobs and Cook is eerie… Visionary CEOs are product and business model centric and extremely customer focused… The problem is in a company driven by a visionary CEO, there is only one visionary … (who) surrounds himself with extremely competent executors, but not disruptive innovators.
- Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (and 20thcentury’s other creative icon -Walt Disney) shared the same blind spot: They suggested execution executives as their successors.
- The irony is that in the 21stcentury, the tighter you hold on to your current product/markets, the likelier you will be disrupted.
It remains to be seen whether Apple can manage this tension well or if it needs to go through a ‘Ballmer’ period before it gets its innovation mojo back.