Jena McGregor
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who's waiting in the wings at Apple?

Could anyone ever replace Steve Jobs? That's the question on many investors' minds as Apple wrestles with yet another medical leave for the company's chief visionary. Jobs announced Monday that Apple's board had granted him a leave for health reasons, but did not specify how long he would be gone.

In his place, chief operating officer Tim Cook will again step in to run Apple's operations on a "day-to-day" basis. Jobs will retain the title of CEO and continue to "be involved in major strategic decisions for the company."

Still, the uncertainty of both the tenure and cause for Jobs's leave will surely have many taking a closer look at Apple's other executives. While the company is known to have a well-regarded leadership bench, no one is thought to have Jobs's mix of obsessive attention to detail, negotiating power, inspirational product ideas and legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur status.

Taken together, the top brass at Apple is likely to keep the place humming in Jobs's absence, at least in the short term.

Over the long haul, however, Apple observers question whether any of these leaders has the same capacity to inspire the sort of game-changing technology and design feats for which Jobs is so well known. As David Yoffie, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied the technology industry and served on tech company boards, told The New York Times: "The company could not thrive if Steve didn't have an extremely talented team around him. But you can't replace Steve on some levels."

A few of the key players:

Tim Cook: The IBM and Compaq veteran is considered an operational whiz who is as obsessive about running a smooth operation as Jobs is about perfect products. Cook, an Alabama native, ran the company during Jobs's 2004 and 2009 leaves, and is widely regarded to have done so successfully. Jobs hired him in 1998 to stabilize Apple's operations woes at one of its darkest hours. Cook responsibilities broadened. He was praised for keeping the trains running during Jobs's 2009 leave, with product developments and launches kept on schedule. Still, some have criticized him for lacking the strategic vision Jobs has. Cook makes CEO-level pay: In 2010, Cook's compensation was $58 million, including an $800,000 salary, $5 million bonus and $52 million in stock awards.

Jonathan Ive: As senior vice president of industrial design, Ive is responsible - second to Jobs, of course - for the look and feel of Apple's products. He has been called Apple's Man Behind the Curtain for his quiet but influential role in executing Jobs's inspiration; known as being close to Jobs, Ive, a Briton, has been a critical to the company's design process since Apple launched its brightly hued iMacs in the late 1990s.

Scott Forstall: As senior vice president of iPhone software, Forstall manages the guts of what is arguably Apple's most popular and revolutionary product. That puts him in a place of increasing influence, as software becomes more and more of a distinguishing factor in Apple's products, according to news reports. The company credits Forstall, who joined Apple in 1997, with being one of the original architects of the Mac OS X operating system.

Philip Schiller: Apple may be known for its technology, its design and the efficiency of its operations, but the company is also a master marketer. Much of that is due to Jobs, of course, long the company's key pitchman, but it's also due to Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing. During Jobs's 2009 leave, Schiller took the stage for the MacWorld keynote and product launches such as the iPhone 3GS and Macbook Pro models.

Eddy Cue: Vice president of Internet services Cue "is regarded as an all-purpose fixer," according to the Wall Street Journal, "who has helped Mr. Jobs negotiate tricky relationships with music companies, movie studios and publishers." Cue, whom Fast Company called the second-most creative person in business, was a low-level IT staffer before Jobs returned in the mid-1990s.

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