Yesterday was undoubtedly the most difficult day of Steve Jobs’s professional life.  Jobs gave up the leadership position of a company that he co-founded, was banished from, and later returned to build anew.  He will continue to have a presence as chairman of the board, and I hope that he is able to serve in that capacity for as long as he likes.

I have no doubt that Apple will continue to thrive without Jobs at the helm.  One of his talents since coming back to Cupertino in the late 90s has been assembling a strong team of executives who share his vision.  Tim Cook has been acting CEO since the beginning of the year, and if the latest quarterly earnings were any indication, Apple shows no sign of slowing down.  Cook is credited with careful control of the company’s operations and efficiency.  Jonathan Ive was a talented but underutilized industrial designer with Apple when Jobs returned in 1997 (his earlier innovations included the form factor of the eMate 300 PDA).  Jobs interviewed Ive, realized his talents, and gave him the freedom he needed.  Ive went on to be the principal designer of the original iMac, Powerbook G4, G4 Cube, MacBook, MacBook Pro, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.  The rest of the team’s credentials are equally impressive.

Jobs has also inspired a company philosophy and a business practice that has allowed Apple to flourish in a time of economic turmoil around the world.  As a leader who famously skates to where the puck is going to be, he hasn’t been afraid to say no to what he considers superfluous or outdated, and he is obsessive about the details of the user experience.  Apple under Jobs has reshaped entire markets, from the music industry to the telecoms to software distribution.  Apple has arguably touched many more lives than those of its customers.

So where does the company go from here?  If the last 15 years are any indication, the growth opportunities are larger than ever.  The iPhone is just four years old and continues to pick up speed in the marketplace.  The rumored September announcement of iPhone 5 will have people lining up all over again.  It’s hard to remember but the iPad debuted just last year, and it already outpaces the Mac in terms of revenue.  Speaking of the Mac, the current lineup commands roughly 90% of PC sales over $1000, with market share continuing to grow and profit margins other companies can only dream about.

Jobs steps down and leaves a foundation that’s more than solid- it’s thriving.  But how will Apple come up with the Next Great Thing without him?  With unreleased products already in the pipeline (is 2011 Apple a company to rest on its laurels?) we will continue to feel Jobs’s influence for some time to come.  And you can bet that the team Jobs put in place is already lacing up their skates for the future.

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