Will Apple decline in a post Steve Jobs era?

Despite Apple’s rather impressive success in recent years, one prominent industry analyst believes the company will inevitably decline in a post Steve Jobs world.

Indeed, Forrester CEO George Colony bases his controversial hypothesis on the theories of sociologist Max Weber, who created a detailed typology of organizations in his book The Theory of Social and Economic Organization way back in 1947.

Weber described three essential business categories: Legal/bureaucratic, traditional, and charismatic, with the latter companies typically helmed by individuals with the “gift of grace.” 

“He is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities,” Weber wrote.

“Followers and disciples have absolute trust in the leader, fed by that leader’s access to nearly magical powers. Charismatic authority repudiates the past, and is in this sense a specifically revolutionary force.”

According to Colony, Apple chose a “proven and competent executive” – Tim Cook – to succeed Jobs. Nevertheless, the analyst believes the new CEO’s “legal/bureaucratic approach” will prove to be a mismatch for an organization that feeds off the gift of grace.

“In charismatic organizations, the magical leader must be succeeded by another charismatic – the emotional connection of employees and (in the case of Apple) customers demands it,” Colony opined.

“Without knowing them personally, I would look to Apple executives Jon Ive or Scott Forstall to be CEO. From on far they appear to have some of the charisma and outspoken design sense to legitimately lead the company.”

Colony also noted that Jobs took three things with him when he passed: Singular charismatic leadership that bound the company together and elicited extraordinary performance from its people; the ability to take big risks and an unparalleled ability to envision as well as design products.

“Apple’s momentum will carry it for 24-48 months. But without the arrival of a new charismatic leader it will move from being a great company to being a good company, with a commensurate step down in revenue growth and product innovation,” the analyst predicted.

“Like Sony (post Morita), Polaroid (post Land), Apple circa 1985 (post Jobs), and Disney (in the 20 years post Walt Disney), Apple will coast, and then decelerate.”