Can Apple Sustain the Legacy of Steve Jobs?

There are few leaders like Steve Jobs who can be credited for changing the world through their creativity, innovation, and commitment to their beliefs and values. I do not have close ties to Apple, but everything I read and hear about the organization suggest that it has been a great place to work, a place where people feel they are a part of an important mission and purpose, one that was clearly and regularly espoused by Mr. Jobs and other executives and leaders throughout the company.

Steve Jobs will likely be credited for his innovations in technology, and well he should. However, as great and wonderful as these innovations are, I believe his greater achievement is leading Apple to be the organization it is today, a purposeful organization, full of engaged employees who are equally dedicated to the mission and who are proud to wear the name. My hope is that he has built an organization with such strength of culture and leadership who will carry on to even greater accomplishments.

Some think that is impossible. However, I am reminded of another great leader who changed the world with his innovations in the retail industry. When Sam Walton died, the Wall Street Journal headlines pronounced “Wal-Mart Hits the Wall!” All of us associated with Wal-Mart know exactly where we were the day Mr. Sam died. He had built such a powerful culture in an organization that allowed all of us to be winners. We were concerned about what would happen next, who would be the voice of the culture and what the future might hold. I think Sam anticipated this and worked diligently to prepare the next generation of leaders to step up. In fact those leaders had already stepped up and had been leading the operations and culture for years before his passing. When he died, we all mourned deeply. We missed the man who gave us all credit for the accomplishments and impact that had occurred over the years.

But Wal-Mart did not hit the wall as predicted. When Sam died, the company had about $44 billion in sales, had just barely ventured into the international arena and had recently conceptualized the Supercenter concept with groceries a part of the product line. David Glass and Don Soderquist stepped into Sam’s shoes and led the company to $244 Billion in sales before Don retired, with a culture as strong and vibrant as Sam left it. Today their sales are at $419 Billion. They have presence around the world and are still building on the vibrant values and culture that Sam instilled into the DNA of the company.

There is a lot of similarity between Steve Jobs and Sam Walton. Both were visionary. Both believed in people, often more than the people believed in themselves. Both were innovators. Neither thought that the success of their organizations were all about them, but held that that it was all about the mission, the purpose, and the people. Both built this into the DNA of their companies. I have the greatest hopes for Apple because I have witnessed the impact that another great leader had on another great company.

My prayers are with all of you in Apple who are mourning the loss of a great man and leader. My best wishes to all of you who attempt to sustain what he started.

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