Apple, Steve Jobs and the dilema of the strong man and the strong brand.

Brand leadership is a curious discipline: some people drive their brands from the inside, quietly managing, inspiring, encouraging and cultivating, while others become deeply entangled in the brand persona, leading from the front by strength of personality. Often such leaders become intrinsically identified with the brand and this can be a very powerful resource. They are usually the entrepreneurs who were involved in the early stages of the business and as such possess a unique clarity of vision and strategic direction. Importantly, they embody some of the key brand values. We often find it useful to use the ‘brand as person’ model to clarify emotional values, so how better to communicate them that through a real person?

Steve Jobs combines some qualities not usually found in one person – big-picture strategic thinking and an obsession with detail. Add to those a creative passion for innovation and you are describing Apple. However, in that strength also can lie a potential pitfall. When the personality becomes too identified with the brand there is always the uncertainty about what happens when they step aside. We are seeing this speculation today with news that Jobs is resigning as CEO. Scenarios are being drafted and shareholders are shifting nervously.

There are many historical precedents: we have seen some empires crumble once the vision was gone, others have flourished. Indeed, identification of the dominant personality with the corporate brand is not always beneficial if his or her characteristics are not appropriate or admirable.

This is not just about business management, but also brand management. We have seen people like Bill Gates artfully  plan and micro-manage their own slip from the corporate spotlight. Others still have us scratching our heads over how they will handle their own exit and what the potential consequences might be. The name of Richard Branson springs to mind.

Jobs and Apple were quite a special conjunction. Not only was he there at the start, but like the prodigal son, he returned and has been identified with the resurgence and transformation of the ailing computer company – he invented Apple 2.0. Will there be a 3.0?

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