The Future of Apple and Facebook: What Happens When Genius Leaders Pass the Torch?

With the recent absence of Steve Jobs, there is a lot of discussion about the future of Apple should he leave the company.  There have been examples of problems with successful companies when their founders or leaders step down. 

A classic example is the problem that Starbucks faced when Howard Schultz left.  As Starbucks became seen as too generic, he came back to rescue to the company. 

Do leaders like Jobs, Gates and others have a cult-like status?  According to Newsweek, “Michael Dell has cautioned about the importance of the founder not creating a religion around himself or herself—and he takes practical steps to avoid that. Dell says he works to make other stars visible with an institutionalized review process that exposes up-and-comers to the board of directors.”

Can companies like Facebook live without Zuckerberg?  Some companies have managed to survive without their visionary leaders and some have not fared as well. Some examples of the impact of leaders leaving include:

McDonald’s – Ray Kroc empowered his franchisees to be successful.

Disney – Walt Disney didn’t do as good of a job finding a successor. After two decades, the company did recover.

Walmart – Sam Walton  and his ideas have made Walmart still a dominating force today.

Visionaries have created some highly successful companies.  The key may be to have replacement leaders that are visionaries in their own right.  They will never be the founders but they may offer their own unique spin.

For now, the Jobs and Zuckerbergs of the world are showing us that there are shining star examples for people to emulate.  According to Newsweek, “we must realize that founders are not like the rest of us. We are so much better off with these creative brains than without them. After all, Sigmund Freud observed that society is changed by its discontents—the iconoclasts who challenge the status quo. They are more narrowly focused than many of us on an entrepreneurial dream, they have talents most of us lack, and they make superhuman sacrifices that benefit us all.”

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