Friday, January 16, 2009

An Apple a Day

Founders of organizations (and companies) are an amazing group of people. They are the types who incubate ideas and then make them happen by bringing people and resources together. It's leadership. What also typically happens with founders, particularly in the non-profit sector, is they ultimately learn they are not good managers of the programs they create. Incubating ideas and marshaling forces to create is a very different skill set than leading day-to-day operations and managing programs and people. In the quest to institutionalize (to become sustainable), this is the place where organizations suffer.

I notice there is a lot written about, talked about, and blogged about Apple Computers and their products lately. And what piques my interest is how much more is written about, talked about, and blogged about the founder Steve Jobs and his health and how the company is negatively affected (stock values are plummeting; brand power is diminishing) as he appears to wither away from a hormone imbalance of some sort forcing him to take a leave of absence for six months. Have you been following this story?

What intrigues me the most about the story is the negative impact a founder has on the organization they founded. When does an organization--whether for-profit or non-profit--become independent from the founder and truly self sustaining? And what about organizations whose very existence is so defined by the founder that when there is a "transition", the organization suffers? What responsibility does a founder have to protect the brand (in this case, to separate themselves from the brand) and help the public see the brand is solid, independent of the founder? And what about succession planning? What responsibility does a founder have to ensure the success and sustainability of the brand while they transition away and ultimately leave the organizations they created? When do founders acknowledge that what they created has become bigger than them and what will they do about it?

P.S. Just a little aside about the power of branding, I find it fascinating that when I went to the Google (that's a Bush-ism worth a giggle!) to look up an image for "apple" that of the 21 images that came up in the search, only 5 of them were of the eating variety and the rest were of the computer variety. Wow!