Thoughts while exercising: Apple after Steve Jobs……

Over the years, I have been following Apple on and off but have really started engaging with them after the death of Steve Jobs.

I was at Hewlett-Packard during the glory years (1964 to 1989) and was heavily exposed to two of the original Valley icons – Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.

I was deeply involved with HP’s desktop computing, PC and Peripheral business. We were impressed with the original Macintosh and we realized that not only was it a machine that was easy to use but more importantly was easy to learn to use. We tried hard to bring these characteristics to the PC business but it was very difficult even within HP’s then famed corporate culture.

Subsequently, many years later, after having started DyAnsys (a medical instrumentation company into Autonomic Nervous System monitoring), I realized that we had a major opportunity to bring Apple like customer experiences to the health care world.

There is much to learn from Apple, especially their relentless focus on user experience and simplicity. This will take an organization, years to inculcate but as a small company we have a great chance to plant this into our company and grow like this.

I was wondering (like the rest of the world) about Apple’s post Jobs future.

If the HP past is anything to go by, Apple will continue to generate large sums of cash over the next 20 to 30 years. They will continue to do iPhones 7, 8, 9, 10 etc. However their ability to spawn new businesses with new “hits” will probably stop. They will become “another” company.

Why do I say that?

HP was spawning new businesses about every 5 years. Initially they spawned them within the electronic measurements area going into multiple measurement parameters. Then they branched out into medical measurements, analytical measurements, semiconductor components, computing via automating measurements. In computers it was first minicomputers, desktop computers, pocket calculators (anyone remember the HP-35?) and then laser printers. All this time both Hewlett and Packard were involved. Hewlett was the driver of all the new business ideas with path breaking products. HP was routinely in the Fortune list of top companies to work at, so it was attracting top-notch talent.

Then both Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett exited. They got involved once more in the late 80’s to help the company improve financially. However, the new business building magic was gone. The laser printing business was HP’s last hurrah in 1984! By the way, the key architects of the printing business were Dick Hackborn and Paul Ely.

HP has tried many things since then but a “hit” has eluded them. They are now a cash rich, also ran company. They have completely disappeared from Fortune’s list of best companies to work for. Very good managers (like John Young, Lew Platt) who could run businesses well, followed both Hewlett and Packard. This is much like Tim Cook and others following Jobs. But the business spawning magic was gone.

My suspicion is that Apple after Jobs will be on a similar trajectory to HP after Hewlett and Packard. Look for outstanding financial performance on building current businesses over the next 20-30 years but also look for Apple becoming a “normal” company. Once this happens they will find it hard to recruit top-notch engineers and then the downward trajectory gets accelerated. Cultures get completely diluted (When was the last time anyone heard about the HP Way?) It then becomes very difficult to make the company a star again.


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