In The Mobile World, Who Needs A Real CEO?

On January 22, 2011

Ben Harvell is a freelance writer and former editor of iCreate magazine. He now writes for a wide range of international technology magazines and websites including Macworld and Mac Format. He has written several books on consumer technology and blogs at Ben covered the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and has been closely associated with the device and it’s rivals ever since. He has commissioned his own apps and reviews App Store content on a regular basis. He’s also rather obsessed with Twitter.

Steve Jobs takes a break, Eric Schmidt takes a back seat and Steve Balmer refuses to quit. Welcome to the era of second string leaders…

Given the current state of the market it seems increasingly obvious to me that a good CEO is becoming unnecessary in the mobile world. The figureheads of two of the biggest players in the game, Google and Apple, are currently taking a break from the limelight and then there’s Microsoft’s screaming CEO Steve Ballmer who will never be Bill Gates but has somehow pulled off a satisfactory launch of Windows Phone 7.¬†While Steve Jobs takes his medical leave of absence he has turned to COO Tim Cook for the third time, proving the ranks of able leaders waiting in the wings at Apple. Schmidt’s sidestep was inevitable given the presence of two Google founders below him but, nevertheless, Larry Page feels he has learned enough (and achieved a big enough head start) to take on Google’s full time CEO role. Ballmer made a natural progression to his position and is just now seeing success after cries for Gates’ return last year.

With three tech greats merely overseeing rather than leading for the time being, it continues the trend of providing a suitable puppet who can also act as a fall guy when needed. Ballmer is the only substitute to feel the sting of a backlash so far and that comes more as a result of the length of time he has held the position by comparison to replacement pitcher Cook and relative newbie Page. That and the fact that he may be ever so slightly insane and put his faith in Windows Vista.

Yet, at least when it comes to mobile platforms, all three companies are doing very well. The iPhone and iPad continue to dominate, Android mobile and tablet devices are blossoming and, for the rest there’s WF7 (shouldn’t there be a T in there?). With only Page as yet untested, it seems the replacements are more than capable of holding their own while the old hands offer advice from the bench. Should Google’s CEO switch follow the same pattern, maybe RIM should consider ushering Lazaridis and Balsillie to the sidelines…