business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Apple yesterday became the first public company in the US to be worth $1 trillion.

Which is amazing all by itself.

However, what makes it even more amazing is the fact that in 1997, the company was perilously close to bankruptcy. Steve Jobs, who co-founded the company but was ousted in a boardroom coup in 1985, only to be brought back in 1997 after a decade during which Apple almost completely lost its way, later said that he thought the company was perhaps 90 days away from complete and permanent collapse.

The New York Times this morning writes that “Apple’s ascent from the brink of bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable public company has been a business tour de force, marked by rapid innovation, a series of smash-hit products and the creation of a sophisticated, globe-spanning supply chain that keeps costs down while producing enormous volumes of cutting-edge devices.”

When Jobs returned, he “slashed 70 percent of Apple’s product plans, commissioned the company’s ‘Think Different’ ad campaign and reimagined how it put its products together … The focus on simplicity became a hallmark of Apple, from the way Mr. Jobs dressed — jeans and black mock turtlenecks became his uniform of sorts — to the way his products operated to the eventual look of his company’s retail stores.”

Talking to staff in 1997, Jobs made clear that he was not just thinking differently, but thinking big … even in dire times: “The question now is not: Can we turn around Apple? I think that’s the booby prize. I think it’s: Can we make Apple really great again?”

But to me, the Eye Opener is how, even has Apple’s value hits extraordinary highs, the story isn’t finished. In fact, it never will be. Because all the same challenges remain - under new leadership (Jobs died of cancer in 2011) and in evolving competitive circumstances, Apple needs to continue to find ways to be innovative, relevant and resonant. It is ironic, I think, that Apple often gets criticized these days for being in a creative lull … it has been a while since it introduced a product with the potential of the iPhone or iPod, each of which changed businesses and lives, ands yet this is the time when the company hits this financial high.

It makes me think about something that the great Norman Mayne, of Dorothy Lane Markets, told me a long time ago, that a “reputation is something you had yesterday. Today, you have to earn it all over again.”

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