By Mark Hutcheon & Jeremie Guillerme
As the world digests the news that the Apple King has left the orchard, the big issue of leadership transition is raised. Can the company’s enviable reputation be maintained with the top man, icon and founder no longer around?
When they leave an organisation, iconic leaders may not only leave big shoes to fill for their successor, but also a corporate reputation gap to catch-up with. This is why leadership transitions often require taking a look at how a company’s reputation is shaped. In this particular case, this means asking whether too much of Apple’s reputation equity was built on its previous leader Steve Jobs.
First signs of nervousness came from the stock market, with investors greeting new chief executive Tim Cook by selling shares and marking the company's value down by more than 5%. The share price of Apple recovered to near parity within 24 hours of the news, and one would expect that consumer and employee sentiment will follow the same curve. Nonetheless, Cook has the duty of protecting the precious commodity of confidence and trust in the reputation of the company.
To convince so many people that the best days for the company lie ahead is a phenomenal challenge to any leader or communicator. With his reputation of being an operations expert rather than a visionary leader, Tim Cook will need to deliver clear messages to investors, employees, and Apple enthusiasts across the world that the company will continue to bring new technology breakthroughs to market, and surprise consumers.
For the next two or three years, Cook will benefit from Apple’s legendary new product pipeline. His ability to nurture the culture of innovation and creativity will be put to a more difficult test only at the end of this transition period. This should leave him with enough time to define his CEOship as much as his personal style, while being inevitably constrained by the aura of the former leader, who will stay around in spirit and physically as Chairman.
The future of Apple will bring interesting insights on how a leadership change can affect a company’s corporate reputation. As the global economy has led multinational companies’ ownership and management structures to get more and more complex, a charismatic leader remains a strong reputation asset. However, even the world top-ranked company in terms of reputation will need to demonstrate its ability to maintain and develop its reputation when the magic of its iconic CEO has disappeared.