Steve Jobs is gone, leaving behind a void at the company he founded similar to the gaps left by other American visionaries like Walt Disney, Sam Walton, Henry Ford and Ray Kroc upon their passings.
That kind of genius is never replaced — but companies that lost an iconic leader must decide how to move on.
The best course of action is not always apparent. The list of companies that lost their way following the exit of a visionary founder is a long one.
Walt Disney Productions, now known as The Walt Disney Co. (DIS, Fortune 500), actually left its founder’s desk vacant for years following his 1966 death. The company stayed in the family, and the question, “What would Walt do?” permeated every strategic discussion. Afraid to do anything new, the Disney family unsuccessfully attempted to replicate Walt Disney’s vision for two decades.
After Henry Ford died in 1947, the company’s leadership also stayed within the family — and its dominance in the automobile industry faded. General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) steadily stole market share. Ford (F, Fortune 500) had a resurgence in the 1970s, but it has never reclaimed its No. 1 ranking.
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