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Open Letter to Apple Board Members on Steve Jobs’ Leadership

January 19, 2011

This is to Apple’s board members. If you know any of these people, please send them this link:

  • Steven Jobs
  • William Campbell
  • Arthur Levinson
  • Andrea Jung
  • Ronald Sugar
  • Al Gore

Dear Apple Board,

First, I want to wish Steve the best of health and that he soon returns to running the company he started with his friend Woz back in 1976. Steve has so much passion for Apple products, employees, and customers that he has lead the company long after he could have gone off and done other things. He clearly loves what he does and would like to continue for many years. I sincerely hope he does.

The board, of course, has a duty to consider the scenario in which he either wants to retire or is forced to. As Steve is the chairman, I’m sure he would be the first to say that succession, eventually, is important and that the company should continue to thrive long after he leaves day-to-day operations. The question is – how to best achieve that?

Apple needs leadership. Although there are many highly qualified managers in the company, no one inside has the forward-looking vision, gut feel, nerves of steel, and showmanship style that Steve has. What has worked well is the partnership between visionary Steve and legendary manager Tim Cook – the yin/yang that makes Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world. I think it’s important that Apple have a visionary leader, someone who can take the company forward into the uncertain future with confidence. I hope Tim Cook won’t threaten to leave if he doesn’t become the next CEO – I think that would be the beginning of a long slide downhill for Apple. Tim is a necessary but not sufficient part of the leadership team. To move forward, Apple needs to continue delivering the magic.

No matter whom you consider, you must understand one important thing: Apple’s current business model, as profitable as it is today, will not last. Apple’s customers are in the tens of millions, but Apple’s customers are also fairly affluent and can afford the best hardware. In the next ten years, that group of people will get smaller, not larger. The future of media, entertainment, productivity, and business tools is in the cloud, with more value at a much lower price point. We are truly at the very beginning of learning what cloud computing can do for all of us. Even Google, whose culture is rooted in the cloud, has a long way to go to take advantage of it. The future of information – and everything Apple does is in the information space – is in connected ecosystems that work together and raise the level of productivity hundreds of times from where we are today. As brilliant as people at Apple are, they are still stuck in the “push” model of distributing apps, content, and data. And that model won’t survive to the middle of this century.

Apple needs to build the personal data locker in the cloud and give people the freedom they have always asked for. I won’t go into the details here, because I’ve described it elsewhere, but the personal data locker is the one thing that can and will crush Apple ten years from now if the company doesn’t see it coming. Some people think there isn’t that much more Apple can do to innovate and expand, but they are wrong. By embracing the “pull” model and building ecosystems, Apple will have a chance to serve humanity and expand its markets to billions of customers around the world. By separating data from apps, Apple can give people power like they can only dream of today. Apple can give teams the collaborative software they need to solve big problems. Apple can turn software from a “lobster trap” model into an open ecosystem of services that make everyone both a producer and a consumer, with much less waste.

Apple has a chance to lead the way into the cloud-based model of the future. But the company must start soon. Ten years from now, the fancy hardware and the beautiful stores won’t be nearly as profitable as they are today. If you’re worried a tiny bit about Android, you haven’t seen anything yet. No matter how cool Apple products are, no matter how many new patents they file, the hardware that drives our lives is going to become ubiquitous and cheap. Smart phones will eventually be replaced by dumb phones that are millions of times more powerful than what Apple offers today. Apple should be ahead of this curve, not behind it.

Board members, I have written a road map to this future. I ask that you read it. I’ll be happy to send a copy to every board member. If one person on the board will contact me and offer to help, I’ll send the books immediately. Or I’ll see that they get the book as an e-book to read on their iPads.

Readers – please tell your friends: if they know an Apple board member, send them the link to this page. I think each Apple board member should read my book before thinking about who might have the vision, the drive, and the passion to lead Apple forward.

Steve – get well soon.

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