“The sales of Apple kept getting stronger, the cash position larger, and the products more creative than any company I can ever recall – all because of the genius of one man, the founder, Steve Jobs.

“When Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, I told people on ‘Mad Money’ that Apple would never be the same…” – CNBC über-commentator and former hedge fund manager Jim Cramer

The Three Gees

When I joined the ranks of Silicon Valley PR directors/managers in 1995, the business media was obsessed with three CEO rock stars we called, “The Three Gees”: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Lou Gerstner (Itty Bitty Machines) and Andy Grove (Intel).

The Three Gees dominated (today’s legacy) media at the time, seemingly making every cover of the leading business magazines, namely BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune.

They respectively represented the software, manufacturing and semiconductor sides of the PC, and the growth of their stocks was something to behold.

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When Steve Jobs returned to Apple one year later – 11 years after being forced out by John Sculley and the Board of Directors of the company he created – the media coverage was breathtaking. The Mercury News above-the-fold treatment left one wondering what the editors would do for the “Second Coming.”

And yet Steve Jobs was indeed mortal. There was no OMG product that Jobs bequeathed to his successor, Tim Cook. Today, Apple is losing ground to Samsung. Will Apple ever regain its Steve Jobs-era glory? Most are betting the under.

Fast-forward to the present: Microsoft is offering new generations of Windows in the post-Gates era. IBM sold its PC division – the technology it pioneered – to China’s Lenovo. Intel and other semiconductor companies are now mere commodity suppliers to the new newsmakers, the social media (e.g., LinkedIn), cloud computing (e.g., Salesforce.com) and mobile technology (e.g., Google) firms or as Cramer says: social, cloud and mobile.

Bench Strength?

In the big four American sports, particularly beisboll, football and hockey you cannot win the World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup respectively with just superstars. This is less the case with basketball, but players contributing off the bench are still needed. The point is champions must have talent, including superstars, but they also need deep benches, intelligent systems and solid coaching.

A team winning the Stanley Cup cannot just rely on one superstar center, left-wing, right-wing line, but also scoring from lines two, three and four, solid defensemen and lights-out goalies. There will be nights when the top line is not producing. That means that others must step up and contribute.

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My former boss, Wilf Corrigan, founded custom-chip designer LSI Logic in 1981 and also served as its chairman and chief executive officer until he decided in concert with the company board of directors to step down in 2005. He surrounded himself with extremely talented lieutenants as mentioned in an earlier Almost DailyBrett post. They went on to serve as CEOs including: John Daane (Altera); Brian Halla (National Semiconductor); Moshe Gavrielov (Xilinx); Jen-Hsun Huang (NVIDIA); Ronnie Vashishta (eASIC) and Bruce Entin (Silicon Valley Communication Partners).

The most important point is that Wilf, despite his status as a captain of industry, did not want the LSI Logic story to be exclusively about him. He also wanted to feature his deep bench. Instead of the first-person singular (e.g., I, me, myself), he insisted on personally speaking in the first-person plural (e.g., we, us, ours). He wanted the same for those who spoke on behalf of the company team … that would be me.

The Imperial CEO

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Just last week, The Economist cited Czarina Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, in a story as to why female CEOs are more likely to be shown the door – the glass cliff — as opposed to their male counterparts. The central reason offered was that female CEOs are more likely to be hired from outside to save the day.

The Economist cited the “disproportionate publicity” that Carly received in her rocky tenure, making her a media star and synonymous with her company Hewlett Packard (particularly during the Compaq acquisition debacle) and ultimately contributing to her demise.

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Almost DailyBrett wrote earlier about glamorous Yahoo! rock star Marissa Mayer, and her decision to pose horizontally for Vogue. The question was asked then, and asked again now whether we care as much about Yahoo! as we do about Mayer? Maybe the coming $15 billion – $16 billion IPO of Chinese digital retailer, Alibaba, will bring some attention back to 13.6 percent part-owner, Yahoo!

We should also not lose sight that Mayer came to Yahoo! from Google. Is there another glass cliff in the offing?

“Tesla is Elon Musk”

Last week, a CNBC talking-head analyst declared that electronic car innovator Tesla was in reality an ion-battery maker in drag.

CNBC anchor Bill Griffeth replied that Tesla is Elon Musk. Guess the same would apply to privately held, rocket maker SpaceX. According to a recent profile on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Musk devotes three days of his typical week to SpaceX, two days to publicly traded Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) and two days to his relatively new wife and five sons from his previous marriage.

Can Musk petition for weeks to be extended to nine days?

As a shareholder of Tesla and as a public relations counselor/commentator for three decades, Musk comes across as a good guy and relatively modest. He simply calls himself an “engineer.” Whether he likes it or not, he is first and foremost a technology rock star.

So what should Tesla, SpaceX and Musk do?

At a minimum, they all should be thinking about succession planning even though Musk is only 42 years young. The comparisons made by 60 Minutes and others, comparing Musk to Jobs, should be seen as both extremely flattering and downright scary.

Tesla and SpaceX seemingly have extremely talented corporate lieutenants. We need to see them and get to know them. Will they replace Musk in stature? No. Having said that, there will be a future of these companies after Musk, just as there was a future for Apple after Jobs.

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For example we could learn more about Tesla’s chief technology officer JB Straubel, who rebuilt a discarded electric golf cart at 14-years young. Today, the Stanford grad in energy engineering is now tasked at building an affordable (e.g., $30,000) Tesla electric car with acceptable range.

The same will eventually be true for the leading rocket scientists (they really are rocket scientists) at SpaceX, particularly if Musk decides to take the company public.

The Tesla and SpaceX teams need to remember that running a company is not a sprint, but a marathon. To make it for the long-run and go deep into the playoffs, you need a seasoned team and a strong contributing bench.

http://www.amazon.com/Jim-Cramers-Get-Rich-Carefully/dp/0399168184

http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/03/27/briefly-steve-jobs-1996-return-to-apple-depicted-in-rare-set-of-photos

http://www.economist.com/news/business/21601554-why-female-bosses-fail-more-often-male-ones-glass-precipice

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/mayer-vogue-nasdaq-yhoo/

http://www.teslamotors.com/executives

 

 

 

 

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