WITH the passing of Steve Jobs, what role should Apple's
board play in keeping up the momentum of innovation, building shareholder
value, and not simply meeting the market but creating it?
For so long, Steve Jobs had loomed large in Apple's success.
In his dual role as both CEO and chair of Apple's board, he controlled and
shaped Apple's destiny, infusing the company with his personality and drive for
innovation, as well as his unrivalled and uncanny understanding of what Apple's
customers wanted today and, more importantly, what they will want tomorrow.
On the flip side, the Apple board and its directors have not
played a strong role in steering the company or holding its executive team to
account. Investors have grumbled, but it has been hard for them to argue with
With Steve Job's passing, attention will turn to the role
the Apple board of directors will play from now on. There is an enormous amount
of pressure on Tim Cook and on the board, as the world watches to see if they
have what it takes to move the company forward.
Investors and stakeholders will be monitoring Apple very
carefully to see if this board and the executive team are up to the task of
sustaining and growing Apple, especially at a time when other high profile tech
company boards, such as Yahoo and HP, have been publicly displayed as not up to
the task. There is also the added pressure of running the second highest valued
publicly traded company in America.
What can the board do to reassure investors, customers,
partners, and employees?
Support their CEO:
Following an icon is a tough job, and Tim Cook is going to
need all the support and engagement his board can muster. With mixed reviews on
Tuesday's iPhone announcement and shares down as a result, Apple has a lot to
prove. The next big flex point comes up on October 18 when Apple releases its
earnings. That will be the company's chance to talk about its plans for the future.
Tim Cook was handpicked and groomed by Steve Jobs. He has
had some time to get a feel for the job and he knows the organisation well and
the organisation knows him. Still, Cook will need the support of his board,
both in backing him up but also in challenging him in constructive ways to make
sure he is operating at his best and making the right decisions for the short-
and long-term health of the company.
Look around the board table:
Holding the roles of both CEO and chair of the company,
Steve Jobs had ultimate control over his board and company for a good many
years. The board will now need to assess whether they have the skills and
abilities they need to adjust to the new reality and to future proof their
The Apple board will need to look to its structure and
composition and make sure they have the diversity of experience, skill and
opinion that they need. For example, as the company is ambitious for more
international growth the board will need to make sure it has the international
experience it needs to assist that growth.
There is also the matter of the chair. The market will
rightly balk at Tim Cook taking on the same dual role, so some speedy decisions
will need to be made about who will take up this position.
Ask the tough questions:
The greatest service the Apple board can give is to ask the
tough questions of the executive team and of one another. Asking questions in
the relative safety of the boardroom, and judging the veracity of answers
there, is a lot better than staying silent and finding out that things are not
right in the cold hard world.
They will also need to be sure that they are looking at the
balance of grounding and stargazing issues, making sure the company fulfils all
its legal requirements, manages risks properly and does business in a
responsible way, while at the same time striving to achieve more and stretch
itself to continue to be a robust and resilient business capable of responding
effectively to the unknowns in its future.
Be transparent and visible:
Now is the not the time for the board to go into hiding.
They need to be seen doing the right thing so that all stakeholders know that
each and every board member is fully engaged and keeps close to the
organisation to monitor the health and development of Apple as the company goes
through what could be a painful transition.
Under Steve Jobs, investors often felt the board was not
playing a real role in the company, but they will be less tolerant of that in
Apple's board of directors now need to make their presence
felt individually and collectively. They all have busy lives elsewhere, but now
is the time when they can prove to themselves and the world that they are committed
to, and capable of, helping Apple make the transition it needs to make.