Sorry Steve Jobs, But I Have No Choice

Apple is slowly falling apart as I first signaled in 2010, during Steve Jobs’ absence. Here is the apology I envision Tim Cook is writing in his head to Steve Jobs already.

I have been a staunch supporter of Apple products for over 20 years under Steve Jobs, way before the herd of populism jumped on the bandwagon of Apple’s success. Similarly, before the herd, I predict Tim Cook is not quite the second coming of Steve Jobs. And under cover of the financial overhang derived from Steve’s direction, Tim Cook is steadily losing control of Apple’s focus and vector in the technology business. So, here is the apology I envision Tim is writing in his head to Steve already. Consider this a roast of sorts, with severe consequences to the technology industry past the humorous stage.

Hey Steve

This is your friend Tim. I miss you. Badly. Short of talking to you in person, I have an admission to make in writing; I may need to take to my grave.

I must admit I do not know how to run Apple. We knew when I took the job; I would be a different CEO than you were. I copy your presentation style on stage, even though it looks scripted and insincere. It is not mine; it is yours. To cover up my insecurity and mark my territory as the new sheriff in town, I had our developers quickly change the user-interface of the Keynote application I use during. Never mind, we force the retraining of millions of Keynote users; they will remember me now. And an Apple logo change would have been a hard sell since you changed it not so long ago. But boy, how badly do I want those rainbow stripes back.

I strive to maximize the performance of the product direction you laid out. That is why I decided, on my first launch after your passing and, for the first time in Apple’s history, to position and sell old versions of our products along with the new. I know how that is opposite to how you reduced Apple’s product line to four products when you came back, but I am going all in, doing my best, rowing at full force. We will now sell an iPhone or iPad at any age or size you want, thick or thin, direct or indirect. Hell, some of our partners are giving them away with other things that don’t sell on their own, just like our competitors. Somebody after me may need to deal with the erosion of our hard-earned brand. But I have no choice, for the numbers measure me.

For now, the Board, Wall Street, and the Press are buying into my performance because – as we know – they can barely see past the quarterly numbers, and you know I am very good at selling short. I started engaging more with Wall Street because our future, short of a renewable version of your vision, is now in their hands. I have no choice. I listen and give them what they want. I feed the dogs the dog food. Faster horses if need be. Handed out some dividends too. And ta-da, they all love me.

I opened more stores based on your direction. I am very proud to have released the watch you, and I first discussed in a board meeting in 2010. We now dedicate a quarter of our stores to them. I hired retail specialist Angela Ahrendts (after a blunder of not knowing Dixon’s European reputation) and trained a host of specialists to convey the value of a watch to everyday consumers. Regular Apple Store employees cannot possibly communicate the value of a watch to customers, we figured. And so what if it takes 30-minutes to get their attention at the empty section in the Georgia Mall? I empower my directs to do what they think is best, and I trust them. I have no choice.

I worked to open up China to sell a treasure trove of new phones and put N2N (our plane) to good use. I pounded the pavement for which you hired me, in sales, to begin with. And I am running as fast as I can, in every possible direction.

I released as many incremental updates of your products as I could drive the team to conjure up. I had to promote some directs to prevent them from leaving and gave some folks more authority, each hanging on to their memory of what their “friend” – you, their unmistaken boss – would have done. I tossed out a misfit who dared challenge me. Jony I left alone, I have no clue how and when to constrain his creativity. Please beam him some direction from your cloud.

I hired some new directs who look good on paper in the new industries I am getting into. The Board naturally rewarded my performance at $58M. Everybody thinks I am a genius, and from the reception at my public appearances, I start to believe it too. But I know it will not last. Larry Ellison, your real friend who described his apprehension about me publicly, be damned.

Nobody appears to notice that the hole at the bottom of our sail-boat has quietly opened up again. Not as a single large hole this time, but as many almost indiscernible small but seeping ones. Each individually eating away at the quest for perfection, you strived for a premium computing experience meant to capture uninitiated greenfield customers over the regurgitation of replacement sales to technology nerds. I don’t have a clue which holes to fix first. All my directs tell me theirs are minute and will be fixed in a future version. And what can I do but believe them? I have no choice. It is all about the team now. In the meantime, I keep focused on selling and sailing. I am sailing at top speed so that nobody will be looking down-under.

I am looking for inspiration outside and have begun to change our strategy from build to buy. I bought Beats to further disinter-mediate radio stations, movie studios, and record labels. I am also trying to be the go-to platform for and turn the heat up on the car business while providing them with in-dash entertainment. As long as they are buying, I am selling. A little over $3 billion is indeed the most expensive radio station one could buy, but Jimmy Iovine, with his army of people, is just so darn handsome and persuasive. Now, what do I do with the crappy headphones that came with the deal? I should have probably bought Bose instead (damned MIT) and stuck to my knitting as a technology enabler, but then I would have had to figure our role in media all out by myself. I had no choice. And now I gained instant board buy-in. I knew land-grab seemed like the dim-bulb idea that would sell. I hope someday it will come to me who I want Apple to be before anyone smart finds out.

But I remember from Apple under Sculley, a company without a vision will not last. And the expression of that vision is waning. Some products are falling apart at the seams. I am trying hard not to get depressed by the support forums bulging about iTunes’ troubles – to play music – becoming an overly complicated mess. On occasion, I reach out directly to customers to show my good faith like you used to, but I don’t have the vision to renew our operating systems – our foundation – like you did. They are becoming the ball-and-chain to our renewal. Our OS X desktop operating system is at the end of its runway. The iOS application strategy was a stroke of your genius if we had only figured out how to slowly pick up the cherries of such innovation and implemented them into the operating system over the last ten years.

We keep slapping new make-up on our themes to keep everyone calm, and our strategy appears to be working, greater-fools aplenty. A new shiny iPhone, a skinnier iPad, and a smaller MacBook added to the line-up now and then did wonders. Our product line is now almost as confusing as that of Mercedes. Yes, our cloud computing strategy is still a mess, as you know, from having wiped the team out a few times. With competitors like Dropbox, Box, and Amazon, all eating our lunch. Maybe I should buy Box, and it would look good for my new enterprise deal with IBM. Oops, a little off-kilter.

Our Apple TV hobby is progressing nicely. Nobody seems to have figured out we have deployed the same advertising business model as traditional radio and charging customers simultaneously, a double whammy revenue stream we can always adjust when nobody is watching. All while we squeeze the artists from making real money by violating the rules that perpetuate economic freedom. We keep adding new media partners to the main menu, and someday soon, we will be able to lure customers away, as we did with Pandora. Apple Pay is proudly gaining significant support from banks, despite the user-experience in most cases requiring the same pin-code confirmation or signature as the card transaction it was supposed to supplant. Technology is such a great excuse to sell a product.

Nobody seems to notice. I just explained to the world how our morals as a company are to be lauded, even though we deploy the equivalent of modern-day slavery in China to make our profit margins pop. Hey, it is legal in China; therefore, it is permissible to us. As long as we publicly redistribute some of those gains to aids prevention in Africa and disaster recovery in the Philippines, we look like the moral leaders of this world. Who dares challenge a job creator?

We proudly and openly deploy a demi-cartel in media by which price-fix music, media, and books, with the fools at the Federal Trade Commission and the media business watching aimlessly on. A strategy you set out to successfully even your score with Bill Gates by changing computing’s role to focus on personal media. We ignore that the artists we praise can no longer price the value of their product independently anymore and are now getting cut out and trampled in the process of price and quality commoditization. Neil Young, Prince, and Taylor Swift be silenced. We boost only the artists we like ourselves, albeit the U2 forced-download got close to blowing our cover. Hey, no one can ever blame us for violating economic rules that don’t exist. And no one can ever accuse us of not obeying morals we have never been taught.

I am taking the company in a different direction than you did, Steve, because escapism, er diversification, of risk is the most accepted form of leadership the board can wrap its head around. I don’t have a vision like yours that would allow me to stay focused on an 80% greenfield of customers without modern technology in their lives. And so I have no choice but to do what post-founding CEOs in my position are generally rewarded for. I transparently diversify into oblivion until complexity reaches opaque, and in the process, hunt money down wherever it rears its ugly head.

My own money, I may all give back one day. Because giving back tends to make people forget whatever we destroyed in the process. I have no choice. Sorry, Steve.

In full disclosure: In 2009, I was approached by Apple to help them manage their venture capital interactions. I declined.

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