Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Apple has made a rod for its own back

The most extraordinary thing about yesterday’s news from Apple was not the news itself but the investor reaction.

Fortunately, for Apple, the public holiday in the United States meant that the firm was sheltered from an investor hammering following the news that CEO Steve Jobs is going on medical leave, but that didn’t stop tech’ stocks around the world from going into freefall and Apple shares being marked down 9 per cent in Frankfurt. All eyes will be on New York when the markets re-open today.

As an individual who still struggles to sync’ his Blackberry and has never owned an iPad, iPhone or iPod, the whole Steve Jobs cult has somewhat passed me by. However, as a business story this one is fascinating.

We have had personality cults with CEOs of listed firms before. Jack Welch at GEC in the States and Lee Iacocca following his extraordinary turnaround of Chrysler in the 1970s. Over here Lord Weinstock was lauded for his stewardship of GEC Marconi and Lord Hanson was much respected for his eye for a corporate raid. But institutional investors, whilst wary, did not sell huge stakes when any of them stepped down.

With hindsight you can’t help but wonder about the wisdom of letting a man who has suffered from pancreatic cancer be so high profile during the launch of the iPad, but then again who was going to tell him that he was not allowed to attend a launch. He is the boss.

I’ve no doubt that an army of PRs are today advising Apple on what to do next. But I doubt whether fixing the Steve Jobs cult will be quick. Certainly, continued posting of good numbers every quarter will help as will the promotion of other individuals in the company.

One suspects however that what Apple really need to do is come up with another brilliant bit of technological wizardry, sell millions in advance orders and then have a healthy looking Steve Jobs announce at the launch, in front of the world’s media, “I had nothing to do with this, I don’t even know how to turn it on.”


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