New Apple ‘governor’ will succeed

There’s a new governor in the state of Apple. Tim Cook, the technology company’s Chief Operating Officer, is taking over the CEO role from the ailing Steve Jobs. As an Apple shareholder, I watched this transition with trepidation over its first few days. My financial adviser, and even family and friends, kindly phoned or messaged me with the breaking news of Jobs’s leave. Implicit in each of these communications was the notion that I might want to sell my Apple stock. After all, how could the company survive without the visionary leadership of its co-founder? Then, to raise the tension, reports circulated of Apple shares plummeting on foreign exchanges. As Monday morning rolled around I had to decide: to sell or not to sell? Can fellow Auburn alum Tim Cook keep the trains rolling? I decided to stay all in. In fact, I will buy more shares if the weak tremble and sell. It was, ironically, my background in polling and politics that allowed me to keep the faith.

First off, political observers must admire the way the announcement of the transition was handled. As Todd Ogasawara summarizes in a technology blog, Apple didn’t disclose the matter too early and step on the buzz it created the prior week when it unveiled an iPhone for Verizon. 

The actual announcement of Jobs’s leave was made on a rare Friday holiday when the market was closed in New York. Then, late in the day on Monday, Apple was scheduled to announce record quarterly income. Anyone pondering selling earlier in the day would have hesitated getting out before learning the magnitude of the profits announced after the market would close again. By Tuesday morning, rational investors had taken a calming deep breath so a panic-driven sell-off never developed. Machiavelli could not have handled the delivery of bad news any better. Any business organization capable of such deft management of a potential crisis merits a lot of investor confidence.

Then there’s the “irreplaceable leader” complex that anyone around politics sees occasionally. Some pundits get in their brains that the last governor (or president or mayor) was the last decent one that God created and so his or her successor will never measure up. Years ago I started pondering this phenomenon with a poll question in which I asked voters, following the tenure of a popular and successful politician, “should the next governor (or whatever) be exactly like (the last one), a lot like him (or her), somewhat like him, somewhat different from him or very different from him?”

 The wisdom of the masses has consistently been that, no matter how admirable the prior incumbent, we don’t want or need the same thing again. 

I have come to thinking of this as the “Widow Jones Rule.” The Widow Jones lost her husband a few years ago and has started dating again, looking for a new husband. 

Despite the fact that she loved her husband dearly, in part because he was a man of few faults who enjoyed the admiration of all those who knew him, he still had a few annoying foibles, like his habit of leaving embarrassingly small tips or not asking for directions when lost. Mrs. Jones decides that this time Mr. Wonderful is going to be a big tipper and the kind of man who stops and asks for directions, or gets a GPS. I have concluded that this is undeniable human nature, to try and fix what’s broken and even upgrade on perfection. 

Cook will find it a simple task to improve upon some of Jobs’s quirks. But that’s not the point. The point is that one man, even the leader, is not irreplaceable in a great organization. Apple will survive, even thrive. Even voters know that. Investors should too.

David Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.