Joining Apple 40 Years Ago

I joined Apple 40 years ago on the day of the company’s IPO, December 12, 1980. As I signed my employment agreement in Geneva I was elated, ready, and relieved.
The relief stemmed from leaving my previous employer, Exxon Office Systems, a moribund and culture-deaf attempt at diversification dreamed up for the oil giant by the Boston Consulting Group. By contrast, Apple was lively and aware. My new boss, Tom Lawrence — nicknamed Lawrence of Europe for his grand generous gestures — liked my previous management work at HP and Data General and, to this day, I’m grateful for the freedom he gave me to build what was to become Apple France.
My first visit to the mother ship in Cupertino was inspiring…and a culture shock. I learned to never step out of my vehicle when stopped by the Highway Patrol, and never ever show up for a meeting with Steve Jobs in a vested pinstripe suit.
I also discovered that as much as I had admired the company from the outside, I had underestimated Apple’s potential and determination. When I saw VisiCalc running on an Apple ][ (as recounted here), and again as I watched forklifts move palettes of software in Apple warehouses on Java and Bordeaux in Sunnyvale, it became clear that Apple was a much bigger opportunity than HP’s desktop computers or Data General’s minicomputers.
When I returned to Europe (as retold here) I was adamant that my new Apple France team would treat French retailers (our customers) more humanely, with more cultural awareness than did our predecessors. Fortunately enough, Apple’s European management was busy fighting fires elsewhere, giving me the benefit of a benign neglect that allowed me to try unconventional strategies. Things went well; Apple France became the company’s most prosperous business unit outside of the US.
After a well-publicized management crisis that ended with Jobs leaving the company in May 1985, I was appointed VP of Product Development. This was both a dream come true and a nightmare. Since my HP days, I had always wanted to run a technical organization, but once I landed the position I made a number of cultural and political faux pas that almost cost me my dream job. Thankfully, new CEO John Sculley, who had handpicked me, overlooked my blunders and found the patience to let my team make good on a public commitment I had made at a team building exercise: We were going to get the Mac out of the ditch.
Five years later my benefactor’s patience ran out. John and I disagreed too much and he did what needed to be done, he showed me the door. But even so, he was gracious: He gave me the professional and financial kick to start my own company, Be, Inc.
I got one more peek behind the doors of my erstwhile employer when the company I co-founded with Steve Sakoman was in play to be acquired by Apple to rejuvenate its tired software DNA. Ultimately, Apple CEO Gil Amelio took a pass on Be and decided to go with Steve Jobs and NeXTStep. In retrospect, it was a wise choice. Jobs’ return reinvigorated the company; his team and their software would become the soul and brains of the most spectacular turnaround our industry has ever seen.
Although the rejection of Be was frustrating at the time, I ultimately drew great satisfaction from Apple’s success, not only as a consumer but as an observer of the company. From the beginning of my association with Apple, in action or in contemplation, I watched the kommentariat repeatedly bray how wrong the company was, that it was doomed to inevitable failure. Some of my favorites: Michael Dell saying Apple ought to shut down and return the money to shareholders; a Harvard management sage criticizing the iPhone’s vertical integration insisting that Modularity Always Wins; the “failure” of the iPad to displace netbooks. Perhaps a monkish geek with a taste for satire will build a “Woe-is-Apple” museum on the web
These predictions of failure, these injunctions to mend the company’s ways persisted even as Apple 2.0 rocketed to the top of the industry. Today, with north of $2.1T, Apple enjoys what is by far the high-tech industry’s largest market capitalization. Ironically, this is $500B ahead of Microsoft, the perennial frenemy, the company that doomsayers insisted Apple should emulate.
Even if the Mac no longer dominates Apple’s financials — that ended in 2006 when the iPod became Apple’s number one revenue maker — it endures as an iconic product, one that I and many others are sentimentally and practically attached to. The advent of Macs powered by Apple Silicon is a significant milestone along Apple’s road to complete vertical integration that began decades ago…
In 1985, Apple engineer Sam Holland convinced us to develop our own 4-processor CPU chip to power future Macs. This was to be done in collaboration with AT&T Microelectronics and led us to buy a Cray supercomputer on which to simulate the future world-beating Mac CPU. Although the project never panned out, it wasn’t entirely a failure: The idea that the Mac could be vertically integrated all the way down to the silicon manifested itself in the 2008 acquisition of Palo Alto Semiconductor, which led to the development of a line of best-in-class iPhone processors, and now MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops running on Apple Silicon M1 SoCs. True to form (and as discussed in the past two Monday Notes, here and here), critics, whether independent or otherwise financially connected, claimed that M1-powered Macs aren’t all that revolutionary.
And just before we go to press, two Microsoft items pop up. One says Microsoft Office apps now run native on M1 hardware, that is without emulation or translation. The second claim is more of a rumor than an official declaration: Microsoft will be designing its own processors for its Surface laptop line and its cloud servers. If true, this would confirm the impact of Apple’s own silicon on the rest of the industry. What will Dell, Asus, and others do now? In any event, the day the rumor came out, Intel shares lost more than 6%.
Working at and later watching Apple and using its products has mostly been fun, even with recurring frustrations such as the fresh bugs that always emerge with new OS revisions. The company’s footprint or, to quote Jobs, the dent it makes in the universe has grown in proportions one couldn’t imagine 40 years ago.
I sometimes worry that the functional organisation Jobs put in place might someday have too many layers for its own good, leaving people at the bottom with less intellectual and, more important, emotional commitment to the culture. But it seems to be working — and has worked since the company was founded in 1976.
Joining Apple 40 years ago was one of the most important turns in my life, one for which I’m happily grateful in the autumn my years.
PS 1: Our daughter Marie connected several related Monday Notes here.
PS 2: Thanks to the many who wished me well after last week’s laparoscopic cholecystectomy a.k.a, gallbladder removal and surgical-grade superglue application. It went as well as friends told me it would.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .