I've been a long-time Mac user. I purchased my first Mac back in the early 2000s and spent over a dozen years contributing and editing Macworld Australia magazine. Right through that time, Apple's creative direction has been driven primarily through Jony Ive.
While Ive gained his role at Apple through a relationship with Steve Jobs, he was the continuity between the successful resurgence of Apple under Jobs and the massive growth the company has seen with Tim Cook. What will Ive leaving Apple mean? And what can we learn from his departure?
Many companies have strategically important employees. These are people who can intrinsically understand how to create something special that resonates with customers in a way that others can't. Whether that's in design, solving engineering problems or marketing doesn't matter: they bring something to the business that is incredibly hard to replace.
Steve Jobs understood this. In the time before he died, he established an education program through the Apple University. Its goal was to institutionalise the essence of what makes Apple different to other companies. Apple was always a reflection of Jobs and he wanted to ensure his vision for the company would live well beyond him.
In a sense, it was the sort of succession planning few businesses consider. When someone resigns from a job, there's a 'handover' period where active projects are given to the next person in the job. We show people where the bathrooms and cafeteria are, and point out the best lunch spots around the office. But values are much harder to hand over.
The loss of Ive from Apple is significant. And while Ive is planning to form a new company with Apple as a client, something is very clear to me. There's no obvious successor here. You can't simply replace one person with another just like them. What you can do is create a team around someone so their values stay on.
Over the last few years Apple has changed significantly. It goes further than simply shifting its primary revenue from computer to smartphones. In its efforts to become more efficient and streamlined, it's become kind of boring. It's true that you can't keep creating new product categories all the time. When Apple introduced the iPhone and iPad it created two new platforms that were nothing like what was available before.
With Ive going, who will bring that ability to see beyond logistics and operations at Apple? Statements made by Apple and information that is slowly leaking to the media suggests a couple of things. Ive has been unhappy and rarely sighted at Apple HQ for about a year. And Ive will not be replaced but his role seems to be smeared across several people.
In other words, there doesn't seem to be a clear succession plan in place.
In your workplace, have you identified strategically important people? They might not be in senior management roles but sit in positions that are critical to your company's success. If they give their four-week's notice, would you be able to continue being at your best?
Look for those people and create an environment that allows you to easily share their "secret sauce".