In the gaping leadership hole left by the death of Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) co-founder and driving force Steven P. Jobs, there’s significant questions about who will step up and be the most “Jobsian”.
I. The Disciple Has Borrowed Much From His Former Master
While Apple appointed Tim Cook to succede Mr. Jobs at the CEO spot, the quiet mild-mannered businessman seems an odd cog to replace flashy, obsessive, dictatorial, performance-driven former chief. But Apple’s long-time marketing chief Phil Schiller and the head of internet services Eddy Cue don’t feel like a much better fit.
Some are arguing that the iOS chief — Scott Forstall — is the most “Jobsian” and thus may be destined to one day lead the company. At the iPhone 4S unveil, Mr. Forstall, an Apple Senior Vice President, dropped into hyperbole and flashy presentations of the iPhone features that reminded many — according to Bloomberg Business Week — of Mr. jobs.
Scott Forstall, iOS SVP [Source: Fast Company]
The similarities are no coincidence. Reportedly Mr. Forstall — 42 and the youngest Apple SVP — was taken under the wing of Mr. Jobs, who served as his mentor. Andy Miller former head of Apple’s iAd group describes Mr. Forstall’s close relationship commenting, “He was as close to Steve as anybody at the company. When he says stuff, people listen.”
At conferences he mirrors Mr. Jobs’ fashion choices, wearing black shoes, jeans, and a black zippered sweater. On the go he drives a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, in silver — the same car Mr. Jobs did.
II. A Ruthless, Yet Admired Leader
Like Mr. Jobs, Mr. Forstall has installed his name on numerous Apple patents — 50 to be precise — many of which Apple’s competitors complain lift technology published in peer-reviewed literature ten years or more before the application. But in adapting to the lust for litigation Steve Jobs acquired  in his later years, he’s poised to continue Apple’s strategy of using lawsuits as a tool against the mobile market’s top players.
And he’s also continuing some of Mr. Jobs other controversial habits, such as ruthlessly driving employees to perform and obsessing over every detail. In fact his favorite refrain is reportedly “Steve wouldn’t like that” — a phrase of used by Mr. Forstall to evoke shame in his underlings. And like his mentor Mr. Forstall is reportedly inspiring a high burnout rate, driving away Apple engineers to competitors.
iOS Chief Scot Forstall evokes Steve Jobs name to shame his employees into submission. He evokes strong reactions — much like Mr. Jobs — at Apple. Some love him. Others hate him. [Source: Apple]
Former Apple software engineer Mike Lee remarks, “I once referred to Scott as Apple’s chief a–hole. And I didn’t mean it as a criticism. I meant it as a compliment. You could say the same thing about Steve Jobs.”
But in performance it’s hard to argue with Mr. Forstall. He’s engineered the world’s second most used smartphone platform and the tablet used by more people around the world than another manufacturer or OS maker. And he’s reportedly inspired his i-device staff to virtually live at Apple, skipping social events, and becoming fanatically devoted to the unit’s products.
That latter accomplishment reminds many of Steve Jobs in the 1980s who led the Mac group which had an “us-versus-the-rest-of-Apple mentality”. Wil Shipley, an independent software developer who works on site at Apple recalls, “Every iPhone engineer and iOS engineer I know at Apple has some of that. They will tease me that iOS is crushing Mac in sales.”
In high school Mr. Forstall played the lead in his school’s rendition of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, reciting the harsh line, “There are two kinds of men, and only two. There’s the one staying put in his proper place and one with his foot in the other one’s face.”
Now he lives by that line.
III. From Stanford to the King of iOS
Graduating from Stanford University, Mr. Forstall quickly assumed a leadership role, designing the “Aqua” Mac interface, which Steve Jobs once remarked made “you [want] to lick it”. And he led the design of Leopard, another big computer success story for Apple.
In 2005 Mr. Jobs put his top staffers to the task of designing a mobile operating system for a phone. The iPod team was in charge of one design. They picked a customizable, Linux-based OS. Forstall’s Mac team was in charge of the other design. He designed a closed-source Unix-like OS with cold exacting design and little customization.
Scott Forstall (left) may be Mr. Jobs’ (center) most dedicated disciple. Indeed he shares the late leader’s penchant for theatrics, unrelenting performance demands, and a belief in closed systems. [Source: David Paul Morris/Getty Images]
Mr. Jobs reportedly expected the Linux team to triumph, but to his surprise it was Forstall who delivered the device with the best battery life and interface. So instead of making Android, before Android, Apple made iOS.
But Mr. Forstall, like Mr. Jobs did show selective flexibility when necessary. After disallowing third party applications on the first iPhone, he embraced them in the second generation. The result was the App Store — an application market that smart phone leader Google Inc. (GOOG) has still been unable to surpass in pure app volume, despite holding nearly twice Apple’s market share.
Looking ahead, everyone’s question is where Apple will go without Mr. Jobs. With Tim Cook, Apple might end up looking more like a more demure, yet successful tech leader like Microsoft or Dell. With Forstall eventually taking command, though, Apple reportedly might look a lot like it would have had cancer not claimed the life of Mr. Jobs — ruthless, stylish, flashy, polished, and ever hungry.
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