Lessons to Learn from Steve Jobs and His Resignation

Apple optimism

This week was abuzz with news of Steve Jobs resignation.  Steve Jobs is one of the most influential men of the last half century.  No other single person has had such a significant impact on a company.  Looking back on Steve Jobs and his career and legacy, a budding entrepreneur and blogger can learn many lessons about success.  In the last couple of years, I’ve been particularly impressed with the way that he has been able to navigate the media.  The adept manner in which his resignation was presented is a brilliant example of presenting bad news with the least amount of impact to the company.

Apple technology

I’ve always thought that Apple would be in bad shape when Steve Jobs left.  After all, look at the last time when he was forced out.  Apple went into a downward spiral until they were literally months from declaring bankruptcy.  Steve Jobs came back and within a decade led the company to become one of the most profitable and successful companies in the world.  It is probably the single greatest turnaround in history.

I think one of the biggest lessons in Steve Jobs overall life story is that success is not random.  Success doesn’t happen to people, people make success happen.

It’s obvious when you see a thriving company takes a dive when the management and leadership is poor, but with a great leader at the helm it surpasses all expectation to gain the top spot.

There’s a lot of methodology to Steve Job’s success.  You can examine his work habits, his drive and attention to detail.  He has very specific techniques that he uses to sell his products.  Just watch his keynote presentations.

This last week was a masterful lesson in how to manage the media and deliver bad news with minimal impact.  If the news had been handled poorly, Apple stock would have dropped significantly, the investors and shareholders would lose confidence in the company, and we would once again fear the fiasco that happened when he left the first time.  As it was, although the news was a shock to all, it had a negligible impact on Apple stock.  Most people were optimistic about Apple’s prospects.  Much of the discussion was about how the culture at Apple exudes Steve Jobs philosophy and would not change with his absence.

In any business, including blogging, sometimes we have to give our customers some bad news.  It can be something small, like we don’t have that item in stock, it can be a blogger taking a short break from blogging, perhaps you are making some structural changes to your blog or website.  We can all take some lessons from Steve Jobs in presenting this news.

Let’s take a look at how Steve Jobs handled his resignation:

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead

Often times we are aware of upcoming changes before they happen.  Some people can become paralyzed with bad news and fail to have a plan of action.  However, planning ahead is the key to preparing for the bad news.  Look at how Steve Jobs planned ahead for his departure.  He started right from the beginning by surrounding himself with good people who would carry on his philosophies.  Then he had in mind a successor, Tim Cook and he began grooming him for running the company.  Tim Cook already had several opportunities to run the day to day operations of Apple as interim CEO.  This give people a feeling of comfort knowing that there is some stability when the next person takes over.  It was obvious that Apple was prepared for this eventuality.

Make it Obvious to the Public that you have a Plan

I think many companies fail in communication with the public.  If you want an example, look at the fiasco HP went through this last week when they announced (possibly?) dropping out of the PC business.  While Apple is know for their culture of silence, in this instance they had been demonstrating their succession plan to the public for almost a year.  It had become public several years ago that Steve Jobs had some health issues.  I’m sure he could have resigned much sooner, however instead they executed a plan of action to boost confidence and prepare for his resignation.  Each time, Steve Jobs went on medical leave, Tim Cook stepped into his shoes and acted as interim CEO.  They announced each time that there was a change.  If you look back over the pattern over the last several years, each time Steve Jobs went on leave he took longer and longer to come back.  In the beginning, people were worried about his health and how the company would handle his absence.  Over time, people saw that nothing much changed when Tim Cook was in charge.  When the time came to send in the resignation letter, it was very clear in recommending that Apple follow their succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO.  This one sentence served two purposes.  First off, it let the public know that Apple had a definite plan of action.  Secondly, it let them know that the new CEO would likely be Tim Cook, a familiar figure.

Timing is Everything

Timing is everything

I’ve often thought to myself in the last few years that Apple is absolutely brilliant in their timing of their announcements.  They leave nothing to chance and if you look back you can find months at a time where Apple has absolutely dominated the news.  They do this through a combination of maintaining their silence and secrecy and maintaining their choice of time when they make any announcements.  Steve Jobs resignation is no exception to this rule.  His announcement came well after the close of business on Wednesday night.  As far as timing goes, it was a brilliant move.  Most tech news happens at the beginning of the week.  By the time Wednesday rolls around, nobody is expecting any news.  Also, making the announcement late in the evening is good timing for the stock market.  The market was closed.  Most investors weren’t able to react on emotion and trade the stock.  While there was a modest drop in the stock in after hours trading.  I think that the timing allowed most investors a good cooling off period, so that by morning the price of the stock recovered and had very little reaction to the news.

From a longer terms perspective, the news comes in the late fall.  Apple has been able to milk the full benefits of all of their positive product announcements without dampening the enthusiasm over the iPad 2, iCloud, or osx Lion with bad news.  I actually believe that their was a long term plan for Steve Jobs to make this announcement during this time period.  It makes absolute sense.  This is typically a slow news period.  It’s before the holiday season, yet some months after they typically announce their new products.  Also think on this…  Apple deviated from their usual summer iPhone announcement and rumor has it that they will announce their new phone next month.  Was their a plan in place to push back that announcement until after Steve Jobs retirement so they could follow the bad news with some good news?

Follow Bad News with Good News

Perhaps this was a plan, but just lucky happenstance…  Nonetheless, the effect is the same.  This next part is a bit of speculation, but it makes absolute sense based on the abounding rumors.  That is that Apple may make an iPhone announcement in late September or early October.  Even if this is just coincidence, it’s fortunate as Apple can build up some optimism following the news of Steve Jobs resignation with some good news.  This may be a conspiracy theory, but I think this is more plan than coincidence.  Is it possible that Apple delayed their iPhone news until after Steve Jobs made his resignation announcement so that they can bolster confidence in the company afterwards?  Absolutely, and I think it’s a brilliant move.

For a more concrete example of this is the fact that Steve Jobs made the request to stay on as Chairman of the board.  This way people can feel that he is still staying around and lending his guidance to the company.  This also takes some of the sting out of his resignation, even if the letter is very much a farewell letter to the company.

Now The Complete Plan

Apple news

Just look back at the brilliant execution of delivering this news.  Apple planned ahead for months, maybe even years for how they would handle Steve Jobs’ leaving.  They demonstrated that plan is small doses to the public.  That just demonstrate their forethought and planning.  More than that, when the time came they executed the delivery of the news perfectly.  They waited until the time was right, down to the minute.  They built in a cooling off period with the time of their announcement.  Finally, they planned ahead to bolster confidence afterwards with some positive news.

As a business owner or blogger this is a plan that anyone can implement.

Good luck, Steve and all the best!