Corporate Comebacks: Apple
The return of Steve Jobs shakes company to the core.
Blame it all on Steve Jobs, a man the Apple faithful have compared to Odysseus, Krishna and Jesus Christ. Like that of Jesus, Jobs' story has humble beginnings, a meteoric rise, a sickening fall - and a show-stopping resurrection.
In 1976, at the age of 21, Jobs -- along with his then-partner, Steve Wozniak -- co-founded Apple. Company headquarters could be found in his parents' garage, in the space once occupied by Jobs' Volkswagen bus; he was forced to sell it to finance the design of the Apple I computer.
But by the age of 25, Jobs was worth $200 million; by age 30 -- thanks to his infamously erratic management style -- he was summarily forced out of the company he himself had built. In the decade after his departure (between 1985 and 1996), Apple steadily lost market share and hemorrhaged money by the billions. In desperation, Gil Amelio, Apple's then-CEO, moved to acquire NeXT, the computer company Jobs founded after his departure.
Amelio was uncharacteristically blunt about his reasons for the acquisition: “'I'm not buying [NeXT]. I'm buying Steve.”
Upon his return, Jobs -- along with Apple's extraordinary chief designer, Jonathan Ive -- quickly brought the company back from near-extinction. Within a year, Jobs had released the candy-colored, much-beloved iMac. Then, 3 years later, came the debut of iTunes. And the iPod, which appeared soon thereafter, was nothing short of revolutionary.
Meanwhile, Pixar -- the animation studio Jobs quietly bought for $5 million during his time away from Apple -- was acquired by Disney (DIS) for $7.4 billion in 2006 (1500 times his original outlay).
This string of victories did nothing to improve Jobs' managerial style, however. Employees still traded terrifying stories: The time Steve shouted “This is shit” in the middle of a board meeting. The time Steve fired someone on the spot, during a ride in the company elevator. The time Steve accosted one of the board members at home. After midnight. On a weekend. And refused to leave.
In fact, getting fired while trapped in the elevator with the mercurial CEO was commonplace enough to require its own slang: Apple employees called it “being Steved.”
Put simply, in the words of Andy Hertzfeld, who worked with Jobs on the original Macintosh: “He's an extremely charming bully who shouts at people,” whose “true genius may lie in his ability to inspire both love and fear... [trashing] other people's ideas with Darwinian pitilessness so that only the fittest survive.”
That Apple's ideas are the fittest -- the best, the most innovative, the most ingenious -- is inarguable. Over 1 billion people use and download music via iTunes - more than 1 in 7 of all those currently populating the planet. At the time of this writing, Apple has sold over 200 million iPods, more than 30 million iPhones - all without compromising its standards (or lowering its often exorbitant prices).
Can Apple survive without Steve Jobs? We may soon find out: Jobs was forced to take a temporary leave of absence in January 2009, for health reasons.
Regardless of how Apple ultimately fares, he'll be a nearly impossible act to follow.
The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.
Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.