There’s a problem with remarkable people. When they die a lot of us think they will be irreplaceable.

“They’ll never be another one like … (fill in the blank),” many say. Steve Jobs was one of them.

So it’s a tribute of sorts that an IT leader like Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison can tell CBS’ Charlie Rose that, in effect, Apple will go downhill without him.

Rose apparently didn’t ask Ellison what Oracle will be without him.
(Larry Ellison. Photo from Shutterstock)

There’s no doubt Jobs had astonishing talent and vision. He was determined to make products known for innovation and designed to be distinctive. Despite Microsoft Corp.’s road to billions by making its operating system open, Jobs kept close control over the Mac and iOS platforms. Android may be grabbing more market share, but only Apple and Samsung are seeing profits in smart phones.

In a consumer market with a frenetic pace, Jobs was a leader. He made few mistakes, and, with the help of his team, Apple recovered from those (and, it can be argued, most of the mistakes were made during his first term at Apple).

It’s true that in consumer electronics a special leader is needed – but it’s also true that leader has to assemble a special team. The leader might be able to point the company in a direction ( “we have to enable Wi-Fi in all our products”), but the leader won’t be an engineer (“here’s how the Wi-Fi circuitry should work”).

There is an argument that Jobs’ string of success was about to run out – there’s only so many digital devices people need. The future, of course, is difficult to predict. Who knows what breakthrough processing, memory or storage technology will lead to the next wave of consumer products?

Is it inevitable that Apple declines without Jobs? No. But for a while the company may look mortal.

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