Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Steve Jobs And The Next Generation Of Silicon Valley Leaders

Posted by Tom Foremski - August 29, 2011

Chris O'Brien, a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News asked: Who will be Silicon Valley's next Steve Jobs?

He picked out five possible contenders and rejected a sixth.

His picks: Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Marc Benioff, Elon Musk, and Reed Hastings. He rejected Jack Dorsey.

On Larry Page:

... it's not yet clear whether Page has the ability to take the company beyond its core business of search. Yes, it has non revenue hits such as the Android mobile operating system, and its new Google+ social network shows promise.

But Page's ability to take the risks necessary for the company to succeed in areas outside Web search, such as mobile, may well determine where he ultimately ranks.

On Mark Zuckerberg:

... we don't know just how solid the company's core business is yet, and we won't until it files to go public. Since the company is young, it hasn't really confronted a moment where it needs to take the risk of pushing beyond social networking as its core business. Zuckerberg needs to show us he can do both before he joins the pantheon of great tech leaders.

On Reed Hastings:

... he seems to be guiding the company through a challenging business transition, from DVD rentals to streaming. But can Netflix really become more than a company that serves up online videos?

On Elon Musk:

His reputation as a daring risk taker and entrepreneur is well established. But his track record as a leader rides on whether Tesla's launch of its new electric car next year is a success. If it is, and it transforms the auto industry, then he has a shot at Jobs-like stature.

On Marc Benioff:

Benioff is personally dynamic and his dedication to philanthropic causes as well as the company's "no more software" mantra provide employees with a sense of purpose. But can a CEO whose company makes arcane corporate software really assume the iconic role that Steve Jobs did?

He rejected Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter because:

Twitter is still a mixed bag for me. The company still has scant revenue, and is still struggling to get its arms around a complex set of design and feature issues. The most interesting things about Twitter are often built by third parties...

If Dorsey sorts all of that out, and he helps create a core, unified Twitter experience, then he’s certainly on the path to demonstrating a Jobs-like prowess. And if he can actually help the company figure out a business model, and even return to the CEO chair, then I think he’s someone to be considered for legendary status.

Foremski's Take: Trying to compare anyone to Steve Jobs is a mistake because he is truly a unique personality. It's like trying to choose the politician that will be the next Winston Churchill.

Trying to find the next generation of leaders that could be compared to Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, Bill Gates is tough enough. And I don't see Chris O'Brien's picks as being able to even match this next tier of leaders, let alone Steve Jobs, with the exception of Marc Benioff.


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