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Apple's Next Big Mistake

[This article was originally published in 2012]

Let's face it: Steve Jobs was Apple. Losing him was, for Apple shareholders, much, much greater than losing a regular CEO.

Steve Jobs made mistakes. All the time. He was a genius. Some of his mistakes cost him his place in the tech industry, of being the richest man in the world, they humiliated him. A man who could stand above all the rest in tech died last year, and even though his personality was legendarily persnickety, his brilliant approach is to be studied and applied.

Yet who can lead the cult of Apple, yes, a cult whose members all wear black? Sure, they are nice, but most of them work for peanuts: and they love it. They call them all geniuses, and frankly they are a lot nicer than they used to be.

The hardware is elegant. Sophisticated, powerful, unusually sleek, unusually resilient.

But to achieve this, there was the Jobs factor. Apple was what he wanted, and what you wanted (especially if you didn't know it). Towards the end of his career, Steve Jobs could apply pressure to just about anyone, because he was charismatic.

And now who do we have? Tim Cook? Who is he? Other than the "rightful heir", who is this guy? Sure he might be smart. But he is no Steve Jobs. Cook did not have to suffer painful lesson, after lesson, after lesson, just to become one of the world's most pre-eminent engineers... ever.

And Steve Jobs was legendary for his mistakes. Like a bird learning to fly. When he was allowed to take off, the skies weren't even the limit.

So my advice to Apple: assert. Steve Jobs did that. You didn't when you withdrew from that Green-Council of products, then had some pressure applied by consumers, then you back-pedaled. Jobs never did that. He would drive an issue into the ground, until he was gone.

Don't back down. Don't be a whiney wimp either. With this Samsung litigation, what are you doing? You won't win. Either you get an injunction, they redesign and outsell you, or you do not win and they will compete with you. Like it or not, everyone copies, prepare for it, be good about it, but don't be a whiney brat of a company.

Jobs whined. Apple didn't.

And get a CEO with charisma. Cook is a great guy, probably would make a great CEO of Proctor and Gamble, but not Apple. Once your parishioners leave the church, others will follow.

Bring them a leader. One who can inspire. But one who won't make mistakes. And if she does make a mistake, then she can handle it in a Jobs-Esque way, remember Antenna-Gate?

It's tough, it will only get harder, but if your weakness is exposed, then you will fall from within.

My suggestion? Meg Whitman. Buy HPQ.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Tags: AAPL, HPQ, Technology, Apple, Steve Jobs, Genius, Leadership