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In ‘Haunted Empire,’ a look at life at Apple after Steve Jobs

May 20, 2014 at 6:40 PM EDT
It's been a little more than two years since the founder and creative force behind Apple died at age 56. What does the transition of leadership mean for the future of one of the most iconic American tech companies? Hari Sreenivasan interviews Yukari Kane, author of “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs,” about the impact one man wields on the success or failure of a company.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, Hari Sreenivasan has our book conversation. He talked with an author who has written about the impact one man has had on the success or failure of a company.

HARI SREENIVASAN: When the one man is Steve Jobs, it’s a question well worth asking. It’s been a little more than two years since the founder and creative force behind Apple died at age 56.

Since then, former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Yukari Kane interviewed more than 200 people inside and outside the company. The upshot is her book, “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs.”

Welcome to the program.

YUKARI IWATANI KANE, Author, “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs”: Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you set out to write kind of a different book about how Apple was going to survive this, maybe thrive this, but really what you ended up with is a story about Apple having seen its best days already.

Why?

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: Well, what I ended up with was how Apple is handling the transition at a time when it’s trying to stay at the top of its game. And I just thought that it was a fascinating period to be watching them really closely, because, you know, I think of them as this empire.

And it’s an age-old question, right? It’s been asked many times. What happens to an empire when your great leader dies? And that, to me, was a fascinating story.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And you’re saying that the empire is not doing so great?

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: I would say that the empire is struggling to find a new identity after the loss of somebody around which it revolved for a very long time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tim Cook, the CEO, read your book. He put out this note on CNBC. He says — this is the first part of his response — “This nonsense belongs with some of the other books I have read about Apple. It fails to capture Apple, Steve, or anyone else in the company.”

Were you surprised by that kind of a response?

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: You know, honestly, it reminded of the good old days, because I would break stories in the past.

I write about the iPad before it came out. And Steve Jobs himself told me that much of my information was incorrect. I wrote about the low-end iPhone six months later, and Apple denied that as well. And both have proven true.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So — but one of the concerns is, is that is this particular period of Apple any different than some of the challenges that Steve Jobs might have gone through or kind of a pre-Steve Jobs passing Apple might have gone through?

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: I think that’s a really good question.

And the challenges that Apple are going through are, a lot of them are big company challenges. This is a company that has grown for — really rapidly for — in a very short amount of time and it’s facing big company issues that Steve Jobs himself would have faced had he been around.

The fact that it’s going through this leadership transition just makes the challenges even more difficult for Apple to grapple with.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, speaking of that leadership, what’s Tim Cook like as a leader? You describe him as almost the polar opposite personality-wise of Steve Jobs. Is he in a position to lead Apple to that kind of next disruption in technology that they have become so famous for?

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: I think if you’re talking about profits and revenues and as a business, he’s a great businessman.

But Steve Jobs embodied this combination, this rare combination of vision and the power of persuasion, which, together, helped Apple disrupt industry after industry with these great products, and there is nobody there right now who has both.

HARI SREENIVASAN: When you look back at the Apple stocks, somebody’s going to say, well, what’s so haunted about this empire? In the past 12 months, they have done probably 25 percent improvement. So, clearly, the market thinks that there is something still worth investing in, in for Apple, right?

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: Well, I think, you know, the market is an emotional seesaw, but I think it’s doing better.

There was a lot of concern a little while ago, and now it’s coming back up again. But my story isn’t about the stock market or how Apple is doing from a day-to-day standpoint. It’s about the long-term vision. And from that standpoint, I think what I saw is Apple grappling with the loss of this man around whom their current vision is based on.

And the market is changing rapidly. And they need to find a new vision for the company post-Steve Jobs. And I’m not sure that they’re doing that. And so I feel like, in this period of time that I have been looking at, they’re lost a little bit.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

So, one of the chapters that you had in there that was interesting to me is all of the events around Foxconn. This is the factories in China who make most of the Apple products that people are holding. There was a rash of suicides and Apple had to sort of deal with this problem.

For an Apple consumer today, have those problems been resolved? Is it any better?

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: I think the problems in China are hugely complex, and a lot of it is beyond Apple’s control, and I do spend a fair amount of time — I visited China and went to the factory gates and talked to factory workers.

And, you know, one of the things I discovered is that — is how complex. And it’s — I’m not sure that it’s something that Apple can resolve. It will be something that will keep impacting the company. And that’s just their reality, and it’s a risk for them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Yukari Kane.

The name of the book is “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs.”

Thanks so much.

YUKARI IWATANI KANE: Thank you.