Art Levinson, Apple's chairman, talks life after Steve JobsFebruary 20, 2013: 10:19 AM ET
Steve Jobs' close friend and colleague Art Levinson describes what life at Apple has been like over the last 16 months.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- "Weird."
That was the one-word answer given by Apple (AAPL) chairman Arthur D. Levinson when asked to describe his experience running the company's board of directors since Steve Jobs's death. Levinson, who joined the board in 2000, was a colleague and close friend to Apple's legendary founder and CEO. On Tuesday, he said that Jobs's absence remains tough to ignore even as the company has continued introducing new products and making fresh announcements. "I'm still not to the point where I walk into that boardroom and don't miss Steve," said Levinson, who finally started but has so far failed to finish reading Jobs's biography. "He was a one of a kind guy ... The Steve Jobs that was in the public eye was not, for the most part, the Steve Jobs that I knew."
Levinson spoke openly about Jobs, Apple's recent earnings, and the board's role in product creation Tuesday afternoon at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Apple's chairman was interviewed on stage by a Stanford student, Vicki Slavina, and took questions from an audience that consisted mostly of university students.
Throughout the conversation, which also touched on Levinson's role as chair and former CEO of Genentech, he reiterated that a company's short-term earnings -- including those recently announcement by Apple -- mean very little. Apple reported $13.1 billion in profit on $54.5 billion in revenues in a quarter Levinson described as "phenomenal." But results that would likely be celebrated by most executives left Apple investors disappointed. The company's stock dropped more than 10% in after-hours trading following the announcement, and since its all-time high of $705.07 in September, the price has fallen nearly 35%.
It's reasonable to associate investor worry with changes at Apple since Jobs's passing, most notably the company's botched Maps application this past fall that prompted CEO Tim Cook to issue an apology and encourage users to download competitors' applications. Both the defective product and the mea culpa were signs that Apple is indeed changing in a post-Jobs world. Not surprisingly, Levinson struck a confident note about the company's long-term pursuits. "There [are] long-term signs of how a company is doing and whether or not Apple sells 47 or 48 million iPhones -- let somebody else worry about that," he said.
So how much input does Apple's board have in the creation of its new products? Not a whole lot, according to Levinson, though new products are presented to the board between 6 to 18 months prior to launch. If presented early enough, some board insights are taken into account, and those on the board with expertise in certain product areas may have more influence, he added. But while long-term direction and planning fall under the board's jurisdiction, individual product review isn't a top priority. "The board is not there to define product specs," said Levinson. "It's there as a sounding board. It's there as a resource. And ultimately, the board is there to hire and fire the CEO." If it's a good board, which Levinson said many companies are without, then it won't get in the way of the CEO and executive team.