Mark Leftly: Apple will grow to cover the Jobs-sized hole
Sunday 28 August 2011
Only the departure of a particular man from a particular role at a particular company could have stolen the business headlines from stock market chaos, a surging gold price and the eurozone crisis.
That man, of course, is Steve Jobs and the news that he would no longer be chief executive at Apple was expected to send the supercool technology giant's shares tanking. After initial losses on Wednesday and Thursday, however, the stock recovered, leaving but the faintest of dents in shares that still value Apple around the $350bn mark.
It is becoming clear that the accepted analysis, that Jobs was Apple, that his brand was integral to and possibly even greater than the company's, was flawed. There is little doubt that Jobs is viewed as Apple's visionary, a design genius who came perilously close to overshadowing the empire he co-founded with a couple of mates 35 years ago.
However, as Jonathan Sands, the chairman of the Elmwood brand design consultancy recently said to me, people can buy many types of similar touchscreen phones, but they go for the iPhone because they feel part of "the Apple club".
Sands mentioned this before Jobs resigned, but I think the words he chose are relevant here. Not too many customers were looking to become part of "the Steve Jobs club".
Jobs's successor, Tim Cook, would do well to realise that Apple's customers have only a passing interest in who is at the helm. This should be liberating, allowing Cook to be his own man and lead a team of 50,000 hugely talented staff to even greater heights.
Instead, there are small, but ominous signs that he wants to replicate the Jobs brand. The picture of Cook in our feature (pages 84-85) shows him in black shirt and blue jeans, startlingly similar to the Jobs trademark attire, as well as having a comparable physique and hand gestures.
Maybe they just have the same sartorial tastes. Also, Cook's wiry frame is the result of being a gym rat rather than a series of dreadful illnesses. At the very least, then, it is rather unfortunate that Cook looks so like Jobs, because there will be those who will draw the conclusion this much more softly spoken man will lead Apple in the same buccaneering style.
What won't help is that Jobs is still a presence, staying on as chairman, though many people believe this will be more akin to an honorary president. Jobs could have done his successor a favour by clearing out completely, though it may be that he felt this would be a step too far, given the current stock market nervousness.
Our analysis of Apple also shows a series of pictures that clearly demonstrate Jobs's sad physical decline. The illnesses and the three occasions when he had temporarily to step down from the helm have not gone unnoticed by institutional shareholders.
Despite all the rumours and fears over Jobs's health, they continued to buy up stock until Apple finally pipped ExxonMobil as the world's most valuable company earlier this month. The very real chance that Jobs would have to go has been factored into shareholders' calculations for Apple's future, and they still liked its prospects.
What Jobs has created is extraordinary. So extraordinary that Apple has outgrown even this great man.
Mr Buffett has an idea in the bath, and Wall Street has its head turned
A far older man than the 56-year-old Steve Jobs, whose name is most certainly bigger than his company, is billionaire octogenarian Warren Buffett.
As you would be, Mr Buffett was in the bathtub when he came up with the idea of investing $5bn (£3bn) of his Berkshire Hathaway vehicle's cash in Bank of America, a deal that was announced last week. The "Sage of Omaha" sees promise in a bank that has been beset by fears that it wants to raise $50bn in fresh capital.
Shares soared the best part of 10 per cent as Mr Buffett talked the talk – "Bank of America is a strong, well-led company" – and walked the walk with what he said was a long-term investment rather than some kind of bailout.
What's worrying is that investors, with brilliant analysts and a wealth of data at their disposal, have seemingly changed their minds on a stock that they sent down from 15 bucks at the start of the year to less than $7.
Mr Buffett might be an investment legend, but what has happened here is that Wall Street has had its head turned by a bloke who decided to take a punt while scrubbing himself clean.
Buffett punts don't always pay off. Nearly $220m was written off his $244m gamble on Irish banks, and he made a $3bn loss on ConocoPhillips after buying when oil prices were at their peak.
None of this is to say that Mr Buffett is wrong. But responsible investment managers should not decide to buy back into a stock on the say so of one man. You would hope that they would trust their own judgements – otherwise, what is the point of entrusting them with billions of dollars when anyone could just follow what the old master does?
Party Crasher: Facebook's No.2 makes Forbes' Top 10 Women list
The Forbes Most Powerful Women list doesn't feel very scientific, despite a fiendishly convoluted methodology that ranks them based on their salaries, number of Twitter followers and the power bases they impact (whatever that means).
Nevertheless, it was heartening to see that in last week's list three of the top 10 were businesswomen: PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Kraft Foods boss Irene Rosenberg. International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde also came in at number nine.
Yet there must be some concern that Ms Sandberg was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton. Sure, she is fabulously successful and was the entrepreneurial genius that made Facebook profitable. Ultimately, though, she is number two to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of the social media phenomenon.
It defies belief that someone from the second tier of business leadership, no matter how great the enterprise, could gatecrash a top 10 list of the world's most powerful men.
Margareta Pagano is away
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