Yesterday, Macworld reported on a CBS interview in which Oracle’s CEO, Larry Ellison, said he has little faith in Tim Cook’s ability to steer Apple in the right direction. It’s a public knock, one business titan to another.
With all due respect to Oracle’s outspoken CEO – I certainly couldn’t do his job – I believe he’s talking utter nonsense.
In a short clip of the interview, Ellison said we’d already seen what Apple is like without Steve Jobs. He was referring to when Jobs was ousted from Apple by John Sculley in the 1980s.
“We conducted the experiment. I mean, it’s been done. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. We saw Apple without Steve Jobs. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. Now, we’re gonna see Apple without Steve Jobs,” he said.
Ellison was a close friend of Steve Jobs, so he’s bound to look back at Jobs’ tenure through rose-tinted spectacles, but I’m willing to spend a little time deconstructing his ludicrous statements.
Yes, when Jobs was ousted in 1985 following an attempted coup, Apple went south, but it took about five years for that to happen. The Macintosh line had previously never been so successful. Indeed, MacAddict magazine has named the period between 1989 and 1991 as the “first golden age” of Macintosh.
But then Apple and its management went a little nutty – the company confused customers with its Centris and Performa lines, which were sold with an overwhelming number of configurations. It also ran failed experiments with other consumer products such as digital cameras, video consoles and TV appliances. Nothing worked, and shares continued to decline.
Things only got worse until Jobs returned in 1997. So, if history was doomed to repeat itself in an endless loop, Ellison’s claims would make sense. Apple without Jobs was a disaster in the 1990s.
But it’s no longer the 1990s, and the company Jobs left when he died in 2011 is completely different to the one he was ousted from in 1985.
For one thing, Apple’s success in a number of segments – first the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad – has been based on reinventing a market and making a shed-load of cash while the competition falls over itself trying to catch up. Back in the late 1980s, Apple’s product portfolio just wasn’t strong enough to weather any ill-advised managerial decisions.
Taking that point further, as far as I can see, Tim Cook has only made one ill-advised managerial decision – that would be going ahead with Apple Maps.
No-one needs reminding about the Maps disaster because it hardly mattered in the long run. Apple is still the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, it’s one of the most cash-rich companies in the world, and, as of May 2013, it was number six on the Fortune 500 list.
All of those tangible, measurable successes happened on Cook’s watch. Pundits have long predicted the End of Days for Apple (check out the Macalope blog to see what I’m on about), but the fact is Apple is one of the most successful companies of the 21st century.
And please, let’s not get onto the issue of innovation. Ellison may have said in his interview that Jobs was “our Edison. He was our Picasso”, but let’s face it – his success rested on some of the best minds in the business, and a lot of them are still alive and well at Apple.
And if you’re so short-sighted that you can’t wait for the “amazing” new products in “exciting new categories” that Cook has promised, what does that new Mac Pro do to your argument about Apple’s lack of innovation? Those new MacBook Airs aren’t bad, either.
What’s more, the new iPhone will be out next month, and a new iPad will follow soon after. These aren’t “amazing” new products, but they’ll almost certainly sell in their millions because Apple’s strategy with these products is sound. If you don’t believe me, have a look at this excellent article by Ben Thompson, who argues the point much more coherently than I ever could.
It’s all well and good looking back on Jobs’ era with fondness – he did great things with Apple. He rescued it from the brink and helped to make it the company it is today. However, Apple’s no longer at the brink, and, whatever the pundits say, its management has a better idea of where the company is heading than any outside observer possibly could – that includes Ellison.
I’d tell Cook not to worry about the Oracle CEO’s comments, but he’s probably too busy bathing in cash to notice, anyway.