Apart from being one of the richest entrepreneurs on the planet, the Silicon Valley billionaire and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is also known as a long-time friend of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. The two men go a long way back and shared a passion for minimalism, spirituality and unconventional managerial style.
The one notable exception, of course, being Ellison’s penchant for spending his fortunes on expensive yachts and houses and indulging himself in otherworldly pleasures.
So should you be worried after hearing Steve’s personal friend openly suggest that Apple can’t thrive without its legendary co-founder because “we already know” Apple is doomed without Steve because “we conducted the experiment” before?
In a word, no…
Speaking with Charlie Rose in an interview for CBS This Morning, the disillusioned Oracle CEO implied that Apple without Jobs won’t be that different from what happened last time Jobs left the company.
Here’s the quote:
Well, we already know.
We saw – 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.
Check out the video.
What’s up with the finger going up and down?
I guess Ellison didn’t get the memo that there has never been a professional CEO transition at Apple until 2011, when an ailing Jobs – already gravely ill and sensing his days were numbered – recommended to the board that Tim Cook be the next CEO.
I think it’s worth remembering, if only for educational purposes, how Ellison was trying to talk his buddy Jobs into a hostile takeover of Apple back in 1995.
Back then, Ellison’s motive was simple: he’d buy Apple out – the company was back in dire straits and at the brink of bankruptcy – Steve would return to power and both men would make insane profits.
The problem is, Steve wasn’t in it for the money. Steve’s plan was to persuade Apple’s leadership to buy his startup NeXT, which would eventually transpire and bring Jobs back at Apple’s helm.
An excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s bio book on Jobs depicts the key difference between two school of thoughts here. Jobs told Ellison, referring to the deal being worked on, “You know, Larry, I think I’ve found a way for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it.”
Ellison’s responded, “If we don’t buy the company, then how can we make money?”
“Larry, this is why it’s really important that I’m your friend,” Jobs quipped. “You don’t need any more money”.
“I think if I went back to Apple and didn’t own any of Apple, and you didn’t own any of Apple, I’d have the moral high ground,” Jobs explained.
Ellison’s response: “Steve, that’s really expensive real estate, this moral high ground.”
Assuming Ellison during today’s CBS interview actually meant to send the message that Apple is doomed, we should ask ourselves: has Larry Ellison ever stopped dreaming about buying Apple?
And what exactly is his motive this time around pooh-poohing on the company his best friend built from nothing, and only now that Steve’s no longer around to respond?
In all likelihood, Ellison in the CBS interview was referring to Apple’s troubled years under John Scully and Gil Amelio, who both have their fair share of blame for nearly destroying the company.
But here’s the catch: unlike Scully and Amelio, Tim Cook is a very competent and efficient manager.
There’s no denying Cook’s a CEO – an Apple CEO – material.
Plus, there’s really no comparing Apple’s current leadership – with each SVP having been secretly groomed for the role for years by Jobs himself – to the management which virtually steered the ship into a destruction after firing the co-founder.
That being said, Ellison’s analogy between then and now is patently wrong.
Steve Jobs so-called wilderness years – a period between his 1985 ouster after an attempted boardroom coup and his return from exile in 1996, was without a question a horrendously difficult and painful period for Apple.
Not just because the board had shown its visionary leader the door, but also because Apple’s corporate culture degraded to the point where depressed management couldn’t figure out how to sell existing products.
The Apple of that time did not have a succession plan, its bench of talents was becoming increasingly shallow and Steve left them no product roadmap to work from. Fast-forward to today and it’s business as usual at Apple.
That’s not saying Apple hasn’t changed in the post-Jobs era, it has.
Apple’s near-death experience has changed the company forever – and for the better. Not only has it instilled the fear of going out of business, the experience has helped articulate Apple’s values a great deal.
These very values are now in Apple’s DNA.
These very values have created and supported an organization which has birthed the iPhone, the iPad, the iMac and many other hit products. Those values and the corporate culture built around them have not died with the passing of one man, Larry Ellison be damned.
Tim Cook is evidently following Steve’s advice – to never ask what Steve would have wanted and instead just do what is right. And although Apple is now being totally unfairly criticized for supposed lack of innovation, the truth of the matter is that the company is just reloading its innovation guns.
Steve left Apple a roadmap of products worth at least five years.
Though Tim Cook lacks Steve’s charisma, he’s his own person and a competent manager – the kind of guy who most certainly knows how to make trains run on time. And that’s precisely what Apple needs between updating existing products and releasing its next big thing.
And trust me, the next big thing is looming on the horizon.
So, what do you think?
Is Apple really doomed without its legendary co-founder?