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How Well Can Cook Fill Jobs' Shoes At Apple?


It's hard to think of the company Apple without thinking of its cofounder Steve Jobs. Yesterday, Jobs, a force who has reshaped the world of technology, turned in his letter of resignation. He's stepping down as CEO.

Steve Jobs has been battling a rare form of pancreatic cancer, and his departure has been expected for a while. To talk more about what's next for Apple and Jobs, we called Steven Levy. He's written two books on Apple and is a senior writer at Wired magazine.

Good morning.

Mr. STEVEN LEVY (Wired Magazine): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, let's start with the billion-dollar question: Can Apple continue to create the kind of products it's known for without its visionary leader?

Mr. LEVY: Well, in a sense, its leader hasn't been there day-to-day. He's been on medical leave since the beginning of the year. That's not his first medical leave. And the company became, at one point, the most valuable company on Earth.

So in the short term, maybe even in the medium term, Apple has proved that it can get by without him, you know, doing his day-to-day work, looking over every single shoulder.

MONTAGNE: Well, it certainly proved it in recent years, but he's more or less there. Back in the '80s, when he was pushed out of Apple, he returned a decade later, and the company was in tatters. Over the long run, in the future, isn't there a fear that losing Jobs could lead to a decline?

LEVY: Well, I think the question really is not so much a slow decline, but an inability to come up with the next big thing, which Apple has really done with astounding success since the return to the company in 1997. What he's been able to do is always identify the next revolution and make it happen.

And so that would be the question, really, whether Steve would be not able to work closely enough to say, oh. Here's how we're going to take over the living room and be, you know, even an absentee general, but a general in that campaign.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, who's there to do that for him, if anyone?

Mr. LEVY: Well, you know, Apple has a succession plan, which it just executed. Tim Cook is now the CEO. He's more of an operations guy. And Apple does have what's known as a deep bench. There's a lot of talent there. But one would expect that Apple would keep importing new people and maybe, you know, some people with the kind of vision that Steve is known for. He's sort of shown the way. You don't have to reinvent Steve Jobs to come up with an amazing product, though there is no other Steve Jobs.

MONTAGNE: Of course, he's not leaving entirely. He'll stay on at Apple as the chairman of the board, which allows him - what? How much of a hand in the company's direction?

Mr. LEVY: Well, if he's up to it, I think it's going to be something unusual. It'll be something like what we've seen during this medical leave, where he was not involved in day-to-day operations, but he could parachute in and even launch a product. I don't know if he'll do that, his famous keynotes, but he'll do strategy. He'll come up with ideas for new products. He'll even negotiate with other executives when he's dealing with content companies to work with and partner with products, and things like that.

So if he's up to it, I don't think Tim Cook is going to say to Steve Jobs, I don't want to hear your ideas or I don't want you to be a big part of coming up with our next big product.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. LEVY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Steven Levy is a senior writer at Wired. His most recent of two books on Apple is called "The Perfect Thing."

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.