The Question Looming at Apple: Who’s Next?

With Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs headed out again on medical leave and some speculating that he may not return—at least not in the same role—the world can’t help but wonder: What is the company’s succession plan?

As we’ve noted, Peter Drucker had strong feelings on the subject of succession. A company’s “survival,” Drucker asserted in his 1946 book Concept of the Corporation, depends on its ability “to develop independent leaders below the top who are capable of taking top command themselves, and to devise a system under which succession will be rational and by recognized merit rather than the result of a civil war within the institution and of force, fraud or favoritism.”

[EXPAND More]As part of that system, Drucker felt that a departing CEO should never choose his or her own heir. He or she can be part of the process—but shouldn’t oversee it. Otherwise, the successor is likely to be a carbon copy of the executive who’s leaving. “And carbon copies,” Drucker warned, “are weak.”

Apple, with a well-known penchant for secrecy, has been battling against a pension fund that wants the company to “adopt and disclose a written and detailed succession planning policy.” But by caving in on this, Apple says, it would “give the company’s competitors an unfair advantage” by publicizing some of its “confidential objectives and plans.”

What do you think? Does Apple now owe its shareholders and customers more information about who’s in line to take Jobs’s place, should he permanently step down as CEO?[/EXPAND]