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Is Apple at Risk of Sculley-era Decline Under Tim Cook?

When Steve Jobs died, all the eyes of the tech world turned to his successor, Tim Cook. Unfortunately for Apple fanboys the world over, Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is one of a kind. Whether you hate him or like him, you have to respect and understand his salesmanship and ability to embody the Apple brand both in his public personality as well as his public presentations. Without an icon at the helm, it’s beginning to look like Apple has gone the bureaucratic route. In other words, it has become just another corporation along the lines of Hewlett Packard or IBM. While this might not be all that bad if your customers are primarily business users and corporations, it’s bad news if your company has staked its whole existence on being “cool”. Let’s be frank about it, Tim Cook doesn’t have the cool factors Steve Jobs has. As a result, Apple is at risk of entering a John Sculley-type era.

Do you remember John Sculley? Chances are you are probably too young to remember Mr. Sculley. Here’s a bit of a refresher. When Steve Jobs launched the Apple Macintosh in 1984, shortly thereafter he got famously fired by the board of directors of Apple Computers. John Sculley was elevated to replace him. Ironically enough, Steve Jobs handpicked John Sculley earlier on to work at Apple. Sculley was an executive at Pepsi Cola and Steve Jobs offered him a job at Apple with the following question: “Do you want to continue making sugar water the rest of your life or do you want to change the world?” Who could turn down such a job offer, right? That just summed up Steve Jobs’ personality and his vision for Apple computers. Well, when Jobs got kicked out, the Sculley era was marked with declining market share, limited creativity and Apple just hanging onto its cult status to keep it afloat. It’s a stock price crashed to the floor and a lot of its big-named investors start heading out the exits. Steve Jobs was so disgusted over his firing that he sold all his Apple stock. It was only through a random mixture of events that Steve Jobs got brought back to Apple through the acquisition of his new company, Next Computers and the rest is history but if you rewind the tape, it could have easily ended with Apple Computers crashing and burning.

Apple under Tim Cook

While it has a lot of assets under its belt and it has a lot of talented people, still runs the risk of another John Sculley era. For Tim Cook to avoid this, he must focus on three things.

1. Foster Creativity
This doesn’t mean acquisitions but recreating the team-based system of Apple so it’s flatter, more democratic and ideas float around more easily.
2. Reward Creativity
Apple must retain its cool mystique by rewarding creativity. This means hiring people that don’t necessarily have designed degrees or the right pedigree for the tech company. Apple has to practice what it preaches and it has to think differently.
3. Apple Must Listen More to its User Base
Instead of trying to come up with a hit product and being so self-conscious, it should focus more on meeting the needs of its actual users because the global Mac fan-based is so democratic and so creative that there are a lot of nuggets out there to be mined.

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  • Wendy Dunham

    I think this is a very real concern right now. Apple can’t just coast on iPhones/iPads while playing catch-up to the competition. Mac users, like myself, who are in need of more powerful desktop computers for music creation as well as intensive video rendering have been waiting 450+ days for a Mac Pro processor refresh. The MacBooks and iPads won’t cut it. Seems like all Apple cares about these past few years is mobile and cloud. I realize the new Mac Pro is coming, but it seems like some afterthought. Come on Apple, let’s innovate before it’s too late – and please find a new spokesperson CEO who is passionate about changing everything, with a zeal similar to Steve Jobs.