In soccer (or football outside the U.S.), the term talisman is given to the one player whose genius can turn a game around. With him, his team wins—without him, his team falters.
Over the past 25 years, Steve Jobs clashed with Bill Gates, Andy Grove and Michael Dell, but during the past decade, he led Apple’s resurgence with the additions of the iPod, iPhone and iPad, driving Apple to become the world’s most valuable company.
Jobs was the quintessential talisman of the tech word, excelling in tech, design, product, marketing, sales and overall business acumen. However, with Jobs death at the age of 56, it’s a matter of time before the media looks for the next person to lead the technology world, to become the next so-called talisman of the tech industry.
The Insiders: Scott Forstall, Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive
BusinessWeek lost no time in declaring:
With the death of Jobs at age 56, Scott Forstall has now become an even more important and visible member of Apple’s leadership team. As the person in charge of Apple’s mobile software division, he oversees the iOS operating system, which runs the iPhone and iPad, devices that account for 70 percent of Apple’s revenues. At 42 he’s the youngest senior executive at Apple. He may also be the best remaining proxy for the voice of Steve Jobs, the person most likely to channel the departed co-founder’s exacting vision for how technology should work. “He was as close to Steve as anybody at the company,” says Andy Miller, who headed Apple’s fledgling iAd group before leaving the company this summer. “When he says stuff, people listen.”
Of course, aside from Scott Forstall, the other Apple insiders who seem like legitimate “heirs” include current CEO Tim Cook, the brilliant operator who has run Apple’s nuts and bolts; and Jonathan Ive, the design hawk who is viewed as the soul of the company’s soul.
While Forstall, Cook and Ive may very well lead Apple to even loftier heights, others have been blazing their own trail at other companies.
Enterprise Software Guys: Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle and Marc Benioff, Salesforce
As the enterprise software leaders, Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff have mastered business and technology. Jobs was an icon thanks to commercializing consumer products that touched millions of people whereas Ellison and Benioff focus on software for enterprises, making them less likely to be viewed as the person the media turns to to understand the future of tech and media.
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft
As the world’s richest person, Bill Gates has stepped out of the business limelight. Too wealthy to have the drive to get back to the day-to-day rigors of the business world, Microsoft’s uncertain future and Steve Ballmer’s approval rating might lure him back. Gates has the vision, technical and business acumen to come back stronger than ever. While Apple emulated others but did things better, critics don’t share the latter point of view about Microsoft’s strategy when it enters a market.
Michael Dell, Chairman of Dell
Right after Steve Jobs took back over the CEO job at Apple, Michael Dell told a bunch of tech investors that if he were in charge of Apple he would, “shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” Today he says his comment was misconstrued. Regardless, Dell remains a wealthy and influential leader of one of the world’s largest computer companies, but whereas Jobs could focus on an industry and re-create it, Dell on the other hand doesn’t seem to “think about being the CEO of any other company, I’m not a CEO for hire, so if you asked me what I’d do for any other company, it’s not really something I think about.” His most disruptive days seem to be behind him.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder
If there is anyone whose attention to detail and focus on simplicity is reminiscent of Jobs’, it’s Zuckerberg. Of course, denigrators will be quick to point out that Facebook is more Microsoft than Apple, and Zuckerberg the next Gates. Right or wrong, at 27 and with Facebook marching towards one billion users, Zuck has a lot of runway to become the face of tech in the 21st century.
Sean Parker, Napster, Plaxo, Facebook
Parker claims to have changed the world three times: with Napster, Plaxo and then Facebook. While critics may argue that he was at the right place at the right time, lightning doesn’t usually strike thrice in the same spot. Parker is increasing his profile since his Facebook stake has increased his net worth, Forbes recently called him an Agent of Disruption when it featured him on their cover.
Evan Williams, founder of blogger and former CEO of Twitter
It remains to be seen how history will judge his tenure as CEO of Twitter, but the fact that Williams has founded Blogger and Twitter – two of the leading communications platform of the past 15 years – gives him a seat at the table. Whereas Williams has the vision to identify these new paradigms, he seems to lack the attention to product or technical prowess that set Jobs apart. His 2008 boardroom coup to get rid of Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey suggests that he can handle himself on the business front, however.
Sergey Brin/Larry Page, Google founders
Wealthy beyond imagination; Google co-founders Sergey Brin/Larry Page rode their Ph.D project to global domination. Today Google is the largest Internet company with tentacles in mobile, Apple’s new battleground. Technically Brin/Page are unparalleled, but the lack of traction some of their product launches have had make analysts wonder if they have the eye for design and product details that made Jobs so successful. With Page off to a good start as CEO, his stock is on the rise.
Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon
Before Jobs’ assault on the tech world a decade ago, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos had the inside track to become the leading disruptor amongst the technorati, even though he clearly lacked the polish that made Jobs so masterful. With the launch of the Kindle and roll-out of cloud services, Bezos is evolving and could emerge as the talisman after all.
The Paypal trio: Elon Musk, Max Levchin and Peter Thiel
The merging of X.com with Confinity.com created Paypal. Once acquired by eBay, the Paypal mafia – spearheaded by Elon Musk, Max Levchin and Peter Thiel have spawned countless companies in tech. Time will tell which one of these three, if any, really stands out. Levchin’s star took a hit with Slide and is now rumored to be working on his next big thing; Musk’s attention has focused to electric cars and space travel, while Thiel has emerged as one of the premium investors of his age.
Janus Friis/Nicklas Zennstrom, founders of Kazaa, Skype
Friis and Zennstrom have made their mark with some of the most disruptive innovations of the past decade. Sure, while Joost makes the Titanic look like smooth sailing, but the product’s design and aesthetics was beautiful. KaZaa kicked the record labels when they were down and Skype left no doubt about the duo’s technical savvy and vision. How Joltid jilted eBay with the IP shows that these guys are ruthless businessmen, too. Discount these two men at your own peril.
Marc Andreessen, inventor of internet browser, currently an investor
Marc is the inventor of the browser, first Mosaic and then Netscape. Today he is a popular and powerful investor with stakes in Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon, Twitter, Zynga; proving his Midas touch on the quick flip of Skype to Microsoft for $8.5 billion. In between he also launched and sold Opsware and Ning.
He invented the browser, so his vision and technical savvy is unquestioned. By making the Internet user-friendly, he understands design and aesthetics. His successful track record as an investor demonstrates that he has the business savvy, too. Does he have the polish and salesmanship that Jobs mastered? Time will tell.
Jack Dorsey, inventory of Twitter and Square
Having invented Twitter at 29 and Square at 34, and now effectively highly active at both companies, Dorsey has the technorati’s attention and mindshare. Adding to this Jobs-esque destiny is the fact that Dorsey was pushed out of Twitter only to return, the way Jobs hired Pepsi executive John Sculley, only to be pushed out by him.
Clearly none of these men match Jobs, today. But with the frantic pace of innovation and Jobs’ influence affecting and enriching them all, it is possible that one of these candidates will one day leave a legacy as great as Jobs’. Who do you think has the best shot?