Steve Jobs and Assessing the Impact of a Media Superstar CEO on a Company

He also died as one of the top 5 most recognized CEO’s in the world. As one Apple observer and former executive put it: “He was a giant and bigger than the powerful company he led to prominence. The confidence that was basically universal throughout the company and the business community in the company has taken a real hit knowing he won’t ever be coming back to take charge.”

This analysis speaks volumes to the very human element at work in leadership by any CEO, even in the largest most sophisticated operations. The perception that even though retired, Jobs still had the ability to reemerge as leader, was a public relations tool. His presence in the background not only steadied, but gave the company the continuous aura of being ready to launch the next big thing any day. Investors, analysts, and even customers had a name they could trust, not only because of his varied accomplishments and his largely amazing track record, but also because he had built up massive name recognition.

Due to leaders like Jobs, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jack Welch and Mark Zuckerberg, a new convention is taking hold that the collection of genius accolades and notoriety can drive the company to heights that business fundamentals alone never could. This super star CEO status is now coveted more than ever and not just for ego-driven reasons. There are very tangible advantages of having a powerfully recognizable CEO with a real track record backing up the persona.

The downside for a company is obvious and will play itself out in the coming weeks and months as observers follow Apple. Just this week, one day prior to Jobs’ passing, Apple announced the details of the Iphone 4S. Whether intended or not, the message is clear: business carries forward, and innovation never stops at Apple.

The true measure of the impact of the loss will be measured over time. Harkening back to ancient civilizations the question is: can the empire survive and thrive without the visionary and driving force? Rome had many effective leaders after Caesar, some with greater accomplishments, but none cast the shadow, unified, and provided a national identity quite like him. It’s the scarcity of people like Jobs that makes their value immeasurably large. The world produces many effective CEO’s but few effective transcendent media star CEO’s.

As one business and industry observer noted: “On a purely practical level, a guy as big as Jobs could easily insulate the company from inevitable bumps, mistakes or downturns with minimal investor or analyst fall out. The positive vibe was always there and that vibe has meaning in business, no less important than the balance sheet.” What happens when the vibe isn’t so loud and so automatically positive? That’s the question for Apple.

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