“He was our Edison. He was our Picasso. He was an incredible inventor,” Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said today in an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose.
That much, many can agree with. But much more controversially, Ellison said, Apple without Steve Jobs is doomed to fail. History, in other words, will repeat itself.
“What happens to Apple without Steve?” Rose asked.
“Well, we already know,” Ellison replied. “We conducted the experiment — it’s been done.”
“We saw Apple with Steve Jobs,” Ellison continued, his finger high in the air. “We saw Apple without Steve Jobs,” drawing his finger sharply down.
Larry Ellison is not just the CEO of Oracle, a very successful public company. And he’s not just a contemporary of Jobs, having started his company and grown it through the same period that Steve Jobs built Apple, lost Apple, and returned to save Apple. He was also Steve Jobs’ closest friend, saying that Jobs was “his best friend for 25 years.”
The two CEOs confided in each other, showed each other their personal jets and yachts, and gave each other business advice, as Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson details. Further cementing the bond between them, likely, was the fact that both were given up for adoption by their birth parents.
And both — as we see again today — were unafraid of huge, controversial statements and public gestures.
This particular public statement, however, is horrible news for Apple, for Apple’s employees, and most especially for current Apple CEO Tim Cook, who was recently prodded by the company’s board of directors to move quicker, innovate faster, and release more products.
Apple has just seen significant declines in international sales and was fortunate to have higher-than-expected iPhone sales to avoid a major quarterly earnings disaster. It is currently seventh place in the largest smartphone market in the world, China. Its stock, which recently jumped from the mid-$400s to $475, is still massively down from $700 highs a year ago, and its iPad market share has been chopped in half.
We’ve already heard significant public debate about how Apple is doing, and while there’s no question that the company’s coming iPhone 5S, cheaper plastic-backed iPhone 5C, new iPads, and more products that will be released this fall and winter will pull the company out of its current lackluster period, the question is, for how long?
Ellison has thrown his old friend’s company under the bus with a very definite answer: not long.
“He’s irreplaceable,” Ellison said. “They will not be nearly so successful because he’s gone.”
So will Apple’s employees, the very people that Steve Jobs had tasked with continuing his vision and legacy, keep the faith, keep working, keep dreaming, keep inventing, and prove Ellison wrong?