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3Qs: What does Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO mean for Apple?

Steve Jobs, the co-founder who led Apple to become one of the world’s most powerful companies and the man who envisioned the iPhone and iPad, resigned as chief executive officer this week. How will his departure affect Apple, its future innovation and direction, and the industry as a whole? We asked Marc Meyer, Robert Shillman Professor of Entrepreneurship and the Matthews Distinguished University Professor in Northeastern’s College of Business Administration, to weigh in.

What is the immediate impact of Steve Jobs’s retirement on Apple’s brand, and does it create a potential opportunity for competitors to seize the moment?

Independent research shows that Apple’s consumers are emotionally connected directly to the Apple brand, and not to Steve Jobs—whose retirement as Apple’s CEO may actually lead to even greater brand enthusiasm, at least for the next several years. From the day-to-day presence of Jobs leading product design, we will have more of his hidden hand, the mystique, guiding Apple’s innovators in future product developments.

In the short term, Apple enthusiasts may be even stronger brand loyalists due to their increased commitment to Apple’s innovation and a show of support and thankfulness to Steve Jobs’ contributions. People who use Mac systems and software are absolutely wedded to the technology.

Now, if Apple begins releasing seriously flawed and uninspiring new products and services—such as a kludgy iPhone 5 or a bug-infested iTunes—then all bets are off. Plus, there are strong competitors either present or on the horizon, being Android for mobile computing or Google making a play for mobile hardware by acquiring Motorola’s mobile business.

But I strongly suspect that people expecting Apple’s star to fall are sorely mistaken. Jobs’ greatest contribution in my opinion has been to make “design” the driver for the business, not just for products but for branding and customer-facing activities. His brilliance was also that he really understood the importance of innovative business models.

Jobs drove much innovation at Apple. Will his departure cause a change in the company’s direction or do you think Apple will adopt a “don’t change what’s working” mentality?

While no company is perfect, my sense is that people who work at Apple truly feel privileged to work there. Management and staff will jealously guard the innovation culture that Jobs and his management team worked so hard to create. At least for now, Jobs remains chairman, a role with the considerable authority. In my mind, the company is in very good hands with Tim Cook being promoted to CEO. He was part of making the winning culture where design and true-to-vision execution matter most. In sum, I wouldn’t bet against Apple!

What is the importance of having a “face” for a global brand and identity? Will Apple try to replace Jobs in this role?

This is a great question. I had a long talk with my colleague at Northeastern, Fred Crane, with whom I have run innovation and branding bootcamps for a variety of companies. We both agreed that an iconic branding—with a person as the face of the brand—is the exception rather than the rule. Yes, there is Richard Branson of Virgin, jumping out of airplanes and personally marketing his companies’ products and services, or for awhile, Martha Stewart, or before her, Victor Kiam, who I will always remember appearing night after night on TV selling his Remington electric razors. But once again, these individuals as brand icons are the exception.

In fact, companies are probably better off building iconic brands that are not connected to a founder or one individual within a company. Jobs as the face of Apple was probably more important to investors than for the Apple end-user.

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