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Without Steve Jobs does Apple need a mission statement?

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It may be hard to believe that a company, as successful as Apple, does not have a published mission statement. You will never see a book on business planning that does not start out talking about how to be a successful a company must have a mission that is concise and easily understood by its employees. A well thought out mission statement helps execute the business on a daily basis. The usual example is where would the railroads be today if they realized they were in the “transportation” business not the railroad business.

Steve Jobs did not have a formal mission statement at Apple. Steve Jobs was an unusual individual that had an uncanny sense of what the market wanted. He did not believe in focus groups or surveys because he thought the consumer didn’t know what he or she wanted. It was up to Apple to tell them what they wanted. Most businesses lack Steve Jobs’ clarity of vision.

Since Steve Jobs was able to set himself up as the ultimate arbiter of what went on at Apple it didn’t matter that the rest of his organization had a written mission. It would be interesting to see where Apple would be if Steve Jobs had stayed with Next.

Without Steve Jobs, Apple will need a defined mission. It is unlikely that there will be a single individual that will be able to gather and hold the power over the organization the way Steve Jobs did over Apple. Steve Jobs acted his entire career at Apple as the entrepreneur does when he starts a business. The entrepreneur has a single vision of where the company must go to succeed. Steve Jobs had an uncanny sense to see where the personal computing world was going.

Clear concise mission statements are critical for businesses to be successful in the long run. This is especially true when their founders are no longer around. Look at H-P; it’s in the computer business, no it’s not, yes it is. H-P does not have a mission statement it has what they call, corporate values and objectives.

Bill Hewlett and David Packard developed its values and objectives as they worked themselves up from their garage in Palo Alto. These statements helped their employees understand how they wanted to do business. Unfortunately, nowhere in these statements does it tell H-P what business they are in. When Hewlett and Packard were running the business they filled the mission void, they knew what business they were in and made sure the employees did what was needed to succeed.

Google has a great mission statement: Organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful. It would be hard for Google’s employees not to understand what business they are in.

Where would newspapers be today if they realized they were in the “information” business and not the “newspaper” business. The New York Times is one of the few newspapers that get it, their mission statement says: Enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.  The Times originally tried to charge for their online content, the old newspaper model. Finally they realized the web is where their future is.  The web and is a free open environment where information is everywhere, so they dropped the fee and now have the opportunity to survive long term.

How long can Apple survive without a mission statement? Probably a pretty long time with the cash reserve available, but cash usually doesn’t last forever. If Apple wants to ensure its long-term success it either has to find and listen to another Steve Jobs or figure out what the mission of the organization is and follow it.

Written by John Marrinan

November 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

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