Although Apple co-​​founder and CEO Steve Jobs has been on med­ical leave since Jan­uary — placing the com­pany in the hands of chief oper­ating officer Tim­othy Cook — Jobs was back on stage this week, rolling out the new iPad 2. Here, Daniel McCarthy, McKim-D’Amore Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Global Man­age­ment and Inno­va­tion in the Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, dis­cusses the com­puter giant and how high-​​level suc­ces­sions affect large corporations.

By all accounts, Tim Cook has filled in admirably as interim CEO during Jobs’s prior tem­po­rary leaves. So what do you make of the fact that it was Jobs intro­ducing the new iPad 2 on Wednesday?

The excite­ment over the new iPad is a great oppor­tu­nity for both Apple and Tim Cook, who is unques­tion­ably in line to follow Jobs as Apple’s CEO. The com­pany could have used this very pos­i­tive moment as a plat­form to thrust Cook for­ward as the “future” for Apple, but it looks as if Jobs is holding the spot­light for him­self, and pos­sibly trying to pro­vide con­fi­dence to share­holders that he will be back.

Do promi­nent executive-​​level suc­ces­sions affect the com­pany in the eyes of the public, com­pany investors and com­pany employees?

Absolutely. CEO suc­ces­sion is crit­ical to all stake­holders and Apple seems to be han­dling the present cir­cum­stances really well. Its prod­ucts and ser­vices are too deeply entrenched in the lifestyles of mil­lions of people to suffer set­backs in the short or mid-​​term. For instance, the number of iPhone and iPad appli­ca­tions down­loaded from Apple’s App store will reach the 10 bil­lion mile­stone in the very near future. The pres­ence of Tim Cook is a real con­so­la­tion to most stake­holders that the com­pany will con­tinue to move ahead without severe dis­rup­tion, at least in those time frames. The stock market, for instance, reacted neg­a­tively upon the news of Steve Jobs’s impending absence, but rebounded imme­di­ately. [On March 2, 2011, the stock traded at a lofty $352 a share, with a target price on the part of many ana­lysts exceeding $400]. The same opti­mism is likely in the marketplace.

What pres­sures do exec­u­tives face when leading a high-​​profile company?

Con­sis­tently meeting high and demanding expec­ta­tions of share­holders, such as earn­ings per share in the short term, as well as posi­tioning the com­pany for long-​​term growth. At the same time, such exec­u­tives are also expected to build a strong exec­u­tive team, pre­pare for suc­ces­sion, and often be a voice of the com­pany to the gen­eral public. To accom­plish all of these in a tech­no­log­i­cally based busi­ness, they are expected to under­stand the role of tech­nology and how to use it to sat­isfy cus­tomer expec­ta­tions and demands.

In Steve Jobs’s case, he seems to have done all of these things very well. Jobs is a charis­matic leader and inno­v­a­tive visionary. It is clear that there is no way to replace him with the same kind of leader as he has been, any more than Microsoft was able to replace Bill Gates when he stepped down, because Steve Ballmer is a far dif­ferent type of leader than Gates. And still, Microsoft has con­tinued its momentum as a leading tech­no­log­i­cally based com­pany. I would expect Apple to do the same, pri­marily since Steve Jobs has posi­tioned the com­pany for long-​​term success.