A Lesson in Succession

When it comes to product development and marketing, Apple can do little wrong. iPod. iPhone. iPad. Well, I suppose the same could now be said of Apple’s handling of Steve Jobs’ somewhat sudden, though not entirely unexpected, announcement yesterday that he was stepping step down as CEO of the company because of his ongoing health issues. (He will continue there as chairman, however.)

CEOs step down all the time. But in the case of Jobs, who’s been such an instrumental force behind Apple’s success, his announcement yesterday became front-page news.

Previously, Apple had come under fire for not having a viable CEO succession plan in place. (Shareholder groups recently had pressured Apple to reveal its succession plan annually.) But Jobs’  recommendation to the board, in his letter of resignation to them, that it follow through on Apple’s succession plan and appoint COO Tim Cook to the CEO post, and the board’s immediate decision to name him Jobs’ successor, confirmed to the world that was hardly the case. 

I asked communications expert Merrie Spaeth earlier today what she thought of Apple’s handling of Jobs’ resignation. “Brilliant! I’d give them very high marks,” she told me, noting that the added visibility given to Cook lately helped to soften the blow for Wall Street, as well as Apple employees and enthusiasts.

She felt Cook’s subsequent letter to employees one day later (leaked to the press) was especially well crafted.

Shareholders and others certainly have good reason to worry when someone as important to a company as Steve Jobs falls ill. But as yesterday’s news demonstrated (and made undeniably clear), Apple’s board, despite criticism to the contrary, was more than ready for that day.

Wall Street seems to agree, with Apple’s stock ending the day better than the major indexes.