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Sep 02

When A Business Icon Departs

Posted by: Steve Marr

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A tremendously successful CEO steps down. Perhaps they had a 30 year tenure or served during a time of excellent growth. How does a business replace an irreplaceable leader? In two words, “they don’t”.


Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple. Steve was involved in many decisions in the company; he made many technology decisions that CEO’s typically don’t make. Delegate, train, empower is the system used by most CEO’s. Steve Jobs has an uncanny ability to be involved at a much higher level of detail with great success. He made tremendous investments on new products and consistently pulled those efforts off well.

Apple will be unlikely to operate in the future with this method. Apple will need different leadership that develops the organization to continue to develop and innovate.  Tim Cook the new Apple CEO, while capable, is a different person. If he tries to make every decision Steve made, the company is likely headed for trouble.

Sam Walton at Wal-Mart instilled the culture of Wal-Mart into the very fabric of the Wal-Mart team. When he stepped down his successor, Dave Glass was far different manager. Wal-Mart succeeded not because Glass was a clone of Sam Walton, but because he was able to allow the culture built by Sam Walton to continue.

When Bill Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft, the company struggled and performance has been flat.  Bill Ballmer followed Gates but has not been able to maintain the momentum of innovation and exacution.

Outside the United States is another example, Sony. When co-founder Morita departed over 15 years ago, Sony lost the innovation edge, something they have never gotten back.  

The Apostle Peter wrote, “And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15 ESV). When a leader steps down, the ultimate testimony of effectiveness is how will the organization does after they depart.  This take work and commitment not every CEO can carry off well.

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach

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