The CEO Series
If I Were The CEO of Apple
If I Were The CEO of Apple

Apple is arguably the biggest brand of all time. It has both the broad mass market appeal and the fierce, loyal following that competitors can only dream of.


This generation has never seen a group of loyal fans so eager for a company’s next retail product announcement in the way we have seen that of fans of Apple. No other company seems to generate this level of mass hysteria with each product release.


So If there’s one company that is often universally revered, it is Apple.


With all that said, what has become readily apparent of late is that this once, very loyal fan base, is now becoming increasingly disgruntled or disenchanted.


People don’t get as excited about the Apple keynotes and events as they once did. People don’t seem to stick with a product line as long as they once used to. Long-time iPhone users – take myself as an example – a seven-year loyal follower of the iPhone product line, upgrading every two years, switched over to Android without too much thought over two years ago, and hasn’t looked back once since.


It’s a similar story for many others and not just with the iPhone but with their other products lines too.


If this rather disgruntled, disenchanted fan base isn’t readily appeased sometime soon, I fear Apple will lose grasp of its trillion-dollar revenue potential and relegate itself to a “runner up” rather than a leader in the consumer tech product space sooner than we realise.


It’ll be not too far a different story from its former days of struggle before the launch of the iPod in the late nineties.

So with the above in mind I wanted to write a post to explain what things I would choose to focus on if I were the CEO of Apple.


My only purpose with this post is to demonstrate how decisions made at the C-Level can affect a company’s strategy and outcome by using a famous example. In this case, that of Apple. Furthermore, it’s to demonstrate how those decisions can be evaluated or viewed so that you might be able to find parallels in your own company and make appropriate or necessary changes as you see fit.


Before I begin, however, let me be clear that this not an attack on Apple or Apple’s leadership in any way. This is unequivocally not an open letter to Apple for them to “change their ways” or anything of the sort. For one, I simply do not have a 360-degree view of their business. I’m only an observer on the outside, so it would be unfair and presumptuous to provide any sort of criticism on their decision making since I do not have the whole picture.


I simply want to use a well-known example to help you relate to things that might be happening in your own business so that you can make the appropriate adjustments.


Now, as a CEO, it is impossible to tackle more than a handful of long-term priorities at once. In turn, these priorities are usually categorised into primary and secondary priorities. Especially in a one or two-year period. So of the many things I could choose to talk about, I’ll list the primary top priority, and then the related sub-priorities.


My aim is to discuss those priorities at a high, surface level only since the nuances of execution are often a secondary conversation after the priorities and the plan itself have been decided. And since there are so many variables that are and can be at play here, it’s best to keep this a high-level discussion only.



The Main Area of Focus


As a CEO my main focus would be to bring back some of the lost magic since the passing of Steve Jobs. After all he injected the DNA that created this giant in the first place.


I feel, that since his unfortunate departure, there has been a subtle shift in culture from the need to get things right to the need to get things done.


I recall that when the first iPhone prototype was developed, Steve Jobs sent it back to his team and stated that he just wasn’t “feeling it”. He used his intuition to guide his assessment of the output. This resulted in the team spending another year behind closed doors if I recall correctly – before it was ready to ship.


This may explain why there’s been a consistent increase in revenue so far. As more things get “done”, the greater the frequency is of products shipped, thus, more revenue due to the increased volume. It seems very positive in the short term, but with the increase in the disenchanted user base, long term, this may not bode well. It would also go some way to explain the reason(s) for their (fan base) dis-enchantment


This subtle shift seems to have permeated all parts of the business and is most pronounced in the 3 key areas that I feel led originally led to the “magic” as outlined below.



1.     Gigantic leaps of innovation

2.     Impactful Keynotes

3.     Polished User Experiences



Thus, first order of business, i.e. first priority should be to address this culture shift but, I think there’s a better way than starting on the culture shift first. Instead, I would hire a new “Product Guy”. The new product guy would help to solve the 3 “problems” above more seamlessly maybe even in one fell swoop, as I shall continue to explain in the points that follow but, let me first explain the point of the “Product Guy”.


I do think that in addition to the subtle culture shift, somewhere there is a slight sense of Apple fearing its own success and in turn losing the courage of its own conviction. There are little things that suggest that things seem to happen in the face of the public based on what’s expected or the course that the company’s history has set as opposed to what needs to happen to chart the course for the future. Again, it’s only subtle but things like the rushed Apple Watch and the increase in number of product lines are what seem to suggest it.



First Priority - The “Product Guy”


Tim Cook, as I understand it from Steve Jobs is not a product guy. He’s an operations man and in recent times his strength in this area has come to light more and more.  Apple’s original magic, however came from its strong product focus. Further, the 3 key areas mentioned above are product related issues. The culture shift required also relates to product management. Therefore, new brass whose sole focus is to address these areas is a good fit for bringing back the “magic” in one fell swoop.


So, the actual first order of business would be to create a new product management position and ideally hire someone with a fresh set of eyes and ideas, but at least with some sort of proven track record of course. This someone would need to be very product focused and not just passionate, but in fact, frustrated with the current state of affairs. It’s frustration that shows how much someone cares about something and right now Apple needs deeper product passion.


This new product person would also need to be someone who seems more accessible and relatable, with strong opinions. An authentic but charming personality.  Someone that – due to the courage of their conviction – isn’t easy to satisfy regards their “frustration”.


Someone that can keep the end in sight, isn’t easily dissuaded or distracted with the patience and determination to persist until the end is reached.


That’s a pretty big ask. These people aren’t easy to find, so I would definitely take my time to look for such a person and put them through the hoops on testing/assessing them for these qualities before moving them or hiring them into this position.


This person will have a very important role in the business.



First Order of Business - Addressing The Culture Shift


Creating a shift in the prevalent operating culture is never easy. Add to that fact that, often, a shift in culture isn’t noticed until some time after the fact. But what strikes me here is that perhaps the way output is being measured is what needs change. More than how much emphasis on how many products should ship each year and how many new features should be introduced, there’s probably not enough emphasis on what is considered good quality output.


Jobs’ intuition is what needs codifying better and needs to be established as the new overarching KPI for teams to measure their performance against.


The “product guy” would be responsible for codifying this KPI and measuring product quality against it.




Re-introducing The Gigantic Leaps of Innovation


Apple has continued innovating post Jobs, but hasn’t made the same kind of giant leaps as per his tenure.  The Apple Watch spawned a new product category, but was an anticipated and predictable move to a large extent. It also hasn’t quite hit the mark like it should have despite all the fan-fare at launch. Many people reported it felt unfinished or rushed. That it wasn’t as well thought at as the iPhone and the iPad.


The point is: Apple hasn’t done anything of late that really makes people gasp. At least not in the way it did with the iPod, the iPhone or the iPad. These were all much bigger leaps. It’s this wow factor that creates the gigantic brand perception. Without this the brand perception weakens.


What’s missing is iteration. Someone that previously worked with Jobs explained in an interview that what really helped Apple create really amazing products wasn’t better talent, more luck or more of a creative gift over anyone else, but just pure iteration. The unrelenting insistence on grinding and crafting until things were beyond above par excellence. This is what created the first breakthroughs (refer back to the iPhone example above).


With a culture focused on getting things shipped it doesn’t leave enough time to iterate things to the point that they’re magical. It doesn’t leave time to iterate plans to the point that they’re game changing or world-changing.


This is where an unrelenting product guy can insist on more time and energy spent on iterating new product plans and product development.



Making Apple Events More Impactful


People still share the Apple keynotes far and wide, but not quite in the same way they used to. Now they’re shared from a more informational perspective.


They used to be shared with a view to help other people re-live the magic of the event. That magic isn’t quite the same. Apple Events are not quite the same as what they used to be and this matters because this is where Apple’s marketing begins. This is what sets the course for the entire relationship with the consumer for a large part of the fan base. Even the slightest hint in lack of polish can affect the overall brand equity since brand equity largely governs relationship between the company and the consumer. Don’t get me wrong. The events are still very polished, but just don’t have quite the pizzazz of yesteryear.


This is where the product guy would serve better as the new face of Apple. To create more entertaining, more relatable Apple event and keynote experiences. Great experiences are created from bringing deep authenticity to the surface. A passionate product person is generally better pre-disposed to this than an operations person.


So I would make the product guy the lead and the face of Apple events.


Polished User Experience


Again this affects the consumer’s relationship with the product and their relationship with Apple. And again, brand equity.


Apple’s software user experience isn’t quite what it used to be. Things don’t “just work” like what they used to. It’s still very good for what it is, but the software just that little bit buggier than it used to be, just that little bit less polished than it used to be. The differences are subtle but the user experience has less purity and more noise. It’s just that little bit less intuitive than it used to be.


But this diminishing user experience, from where Apple is sat right now can be hard to get a reading on, because quantitative data alone doesn’t express how people feel. It gives an indication only.


Many a rant that landed directly into Jobs’ email inbox helped to highlight how people were feeling about the product. Apple hasn’t quite been accessible in the same way since, not that this system was necessarily the best in the first place, but people want to be heard. They want someone to be able to vent to. To express their frustration. This system exists at the customer service level, but I’m not sure if these things are being fed back to the top of the chain in the same way as it were.


A relatable and approachable product person can get closer to consumers and get a better sense of prevailing sentiments. This in turn can drive the product development for more polished user experiences. It may require a dedicated process however, perhaps one that is more scalable then rants into the his or her inbox.




Final Words


When you want a business to really scale it demands a high degree of operational finesse and polish. However, It’s important to ensure the operational mindset doesn’t outweigh the need for an intuitive approach to product development and the customer relationship.


In this post I have tried to demonstrate how indicators in the current state of affairs and business can be used to find the problem location and how simple changes can move you closer to desired outcomes. It’s often a case of extrapolating backwards after making sure there is a good assessment of the reality beforehand.  (A crucial step not to be missed)


Simple changes can have far reaching impact when executed correctly. This the case for all businesses, big and small. But remember, strategies need to be revisited often. They have to be iterated and re-assessed on a regular basis. Just because I have laid this strategy out here as above, it doesn’t mean it will necessarily stand the test of time. There are too many unknown unknowns to know how far it can go. All I am saying is that this is where I would a) Look to start and b) to demonstrate a process for moving the business closer in the direction of desired outcomes.


Even if you have a business that isn’t even remotely the size of Apple, the same principles can be used to direct better outcomes for your business. The principles largely remain the same. Where things often change is in the nuances of execution which is why I kept this a high-level blog post.


If you’d like to learn more about the first principles used in deriving such a strategy, you can do so by learning about our 8-Pillar Framework on our Webinar Video , completely free.  


This is an excerpt of a much longer webinar that gives you mental models and tools to develop your own winning strategy to create a game-changing business.

Khuram Malik
Chief Strategist & Founder
Khuram helps Founders and CEOs with strategies for growth. His biggest wish is to help create 100 household names around the globe over the next few years. He is unrepentant and relentless about early adoption and smart execution.