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Apple, Like Disney, Will Survive Death of Founder

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Drawing parallels between Apple (AAPL) and Disney (DIS) is easier than mentioning that the late Steve Jobs was the media company's largest shareholder.

Apple said Jobs, 56, died Wednesday. He was diagnosed in 2003 with a neuroendocrine tumor, a rare form of pancreatic cancer, and had a liver transplant in 2009. Jobs stepped down as CEO in August after reviving the company from the brink of failure in 1998. Before returning to Apple, Jobs personally acquired a majority stake in animation studio Pixar, which was then sold to Disney. Jobs became Disney's largest shareholder, with a 7% stake.

Disney CEO Robert Iger and Steve Jobs

Jobs' death unfortunately comes at a critical time for Apple. While the company has continued to deliver updates for innovative products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad, there have been questions over whether new executive leadership can innovate, execute and connect with consumers the way Jobs famously did.

The situation is reminiscent of the struggles Disney dealt with in the mid-1960s after the death of entrepreneur and icon Walt Disney who, like Jobs, died of complications related to cancer. Just as Disney didn't survive to see the completion of his masterpiece, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Jobs will never see the release of the iPhone 4S or other rumored devices like the iPhone 5, iPad 3, or a high-definition Apple television set.

Dan Morris, manager of the Manor Growth Fund (MNRGX), counts Apple as its largest holding with a 5.4% weighting. In drawing comparisons between Jobs and Disney, he notes the massive preparations each icon had to make in order to see their companies survive long after they did.

"In the 1960s, Walt Disney passed away as the creative company was still growing," Morris says. "He had spent a fair amount of time managing the transition. He had a strong management team that would continue his vision."

Today's edition of The New York Times argues that similarities between Apple post-Jobs and Walt Disney post-Disney should raise more caution than praise, especially now that Tim Cook, as Apple's new CEO, must delicately navigate a difficult time for the company.

[Disney's] executives often praised corporate decision-making by saying, "Walt would have liked it." But by the late 1970s, Disney was struggling after a string of box-office flops and was the subject of a hostile-takeover attempt. It took the hiring of Michael Eisner and other top executives in the 1980s to revitalize Disney through more aggressive investments in animated filmmaking, theme parks and stores.

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