Boardroom Despatches: Apple's rebirth

A fine lesson for all of us

A fine lesson for all of us

Forget the success of iTunes or even the iPod. The lesson to take from Apple is all about an organisation and leader that can learn from its past, says Rene Carayol.

Are Apple - and its charismatic leader Steve Jobs - the ultimate reformed act? I want to look at the good, the bad and the ugly at this company, focusing on the good that has seen a tremendous turnaround, and what lessons that delivers.

Go back a few years and it is clear Apple had become a cult not a business. If you didn't use one you weren't part of the hippest religion in town.

I say that as I oversaw a big community of Apple users. The company has long been strong in the media, publishing and creative arts, as well as education, of course. When I was IT director at IPC Media we had lots of Macs.

They were fantastic products for the creatives but esoteric. They were also three times more expensive to maintain than the PCs we had to get in the experts all the time to help out. Unsurprisingly, the company hit the buffers.

But as it became the norm to predict death at the end of a slow demise, back came co-founder Steve Jobs, for a long as interim CEO, then as full-on leader. That was a good move. We were about to see a new Jobs.

And so we eventually arrive at the birth of the little Apple, what I'm calling the iPod. Again the company has cult status - in a good way - again it is cool.

Check out those ads. My only criticism is those white earphones. Consumers asked if Apple would change them. Apple didn't want to - they're cool too. Only they're a mugger's delight. Is it cool to be mugged? That's the ugly side of the resurgent vendor.

But the good - and here Apple has been very good - is not only in riding a new wave in personal technology but just how it's done it.

Unlike other sellers of legitimate tracks online, Apple knows it won't make mint from iTunes. Instead, it realises that service drives sales of its iPods, the must have gadget of last year and maybe this year too.

The figures speak for themselves. The company's second quarter revenues were up year-on-year to $1.9bn. Profits tripled to $46m, largely driven by iPod sales.

Apple was a 'fuck you' company. It wouldn't change, even if change was its best option in most cases. It - and I'm guessing Jobs - learnt that no man is an island. Critically iPods are compatible with Windows machines. Really they had to be to get any kind of market share.

A recent piece on silicon.com, from writers in Silicon Valley, questions whether the iPod will go the way of the Mac - poorly licensed and eventually beaten into a distant second place by PC clones that were often not nearly as capable.

I'm not sure that will be the case. The best lesson to learn from Jobs and co is that this is a company which has now put its business hat on. The iPod and iTunes - which makes little money but furthers the cause - are a marketer's dream.

So there are now around two million users. Will it go down in history as ground-breaking? I'm not sure that's what I'd like to draw from all this - better to remember a company that learnt from its past and is now once again hot property.