Why Larry Ellison is wrong about Apple

Tim Bajarin / August 16th, 2013

In a recent TV interview with Charlie Rose, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison raised a few eyebrows when he suggested that Apple best days are over since Steve Jobs is no longer there to be its guiding light. When asked about Apple’s future, Ellison said that we saw Apple once before when Jobs was not there and suggested that without him at the helm, Apple will most likely have the same fate.

I am sure that this view comes from his deep relationship with Jobs and the great loss he still feels now that Steve is gone. However, his view on Apple after Jobs was ousted in 1985 vs. Apple without Jobs now is just plain wrong. When Steve was with Apple up to 1985, everything Apple did revolved around Jobs. He was young, brash, egotistical and an extremely poor manager.

I witnessed first hand Job’s maniacal behavior just before he was ousted when I was asked to meet with him and then CEO, John Sculley at Apple’s HQ. Jobs and Sculley were going to push the early desktop publishing concept and wanted my feedback on something since I did a printer report three years earlier where I predicted “if laser printers could be placed on desktops, we could someday see people publishing documents from the desktop.” At that time laser printers were room sized but I had seen Canon’s desktop printer laser engine in the labs four years earlier and saw its potential impact on personal publishing.

As we were talking a senior level engineer knocked on the door and told Steve about a problem he was having. Jobs was not pleased with what he said and called him stupid and an idiot. Both Sculley were very embarrassed as he berated this guy right in front of us. But when the guy left, Jobs went back to being himself and kept on talking as if nothing had happened.

Two months later Sculley and the board fired Jobs and Sculley took over as its only leader. Under Sculley Apple actually made some important strides. They introduced desktop publishing and the Mac became a serious business tool. He integrated CD Roms into the Mac and launched the multimedia revolution in the early 1990’s. In fact it took the PC crowd two years to catch up and Apple’s early lead in multimedia. This was a key feature which finally brought the Mac to consumers as they saw multimedia content as key learning tools for their kids.

Eventually Sculley was fired and Apple then went into its dark period under CEO’s Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio. Ellison was right in the sense that even though Apple stayed afloat under Sculley for a time, Apple without Jobs at that point was clearly in decline.

We all know what happened when Jobs came back in 1997 and started revolutionizing the market with the iMacs, iPods, iPhones and iPads. But unlike the last time Jobs left Apple, this time he was much more aware of his human frailties and starting in 2002, began preparing Apple for the day when he could no longer lead the company. That means that this time he began pouring himself into Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Peter Openheimer and their top leaders to make sure they understood his vision, ideas, management spirit and philosophy as well as pouring his vision and design skills into Johnny Ive.

While Apple cannot be the same without Jobs because he was one of a kind, the Apple he left behind is nothing like the Apple he left behind when he was fired in 1985. This is why Ellison is just plain wrong about Apple. This time Apple is in much better shape financially, motivationally, and under Jobs directed and inspired leadership. Apple now has a Steve Jobs trained team to carry on his work and vision and I have no doubt that Steve Jobs left them well equipped to keep Apple moving forward and delighting their customers for many years to come.

The 1980’s are nothing like 2013 and beyond and the Apple Jobs left back then is nothing like the Apple he left in tact today. If you buy the narrative that history will repeat itself and Android will do to Apple what Microsoft did to them in the 90’s then I suggest you read Ben’s analysis on why history will not repeat itself.

Dear Industry: Why History Won’t Repeat Itself

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • FalKirk

    Steve Jobs was once asked if his greatest creation was the iPad or the iPhone. He replied:

    “No. Apple — the company. Because anybody can create products, but Apple keeps creating great products.”

    Only time will tell, but if Steve Jobs’ greatest creation was Apple, then Apple will continue to keep making great things, even without the Steve Jobs.

  • Kenny

    The only doubt I have about Apple, has nothing to do with Steve Jobs absent, but the fact that they are an old company with an old philosophy and management style in a world that is much much younger and much more competitive than the one Steve job saw in 1997.

    But i agree, Steve was one of a lifetime genius.

    • FalKirk

      “they are an old company with an old philosophy” – Kenny

      Are you messing with us? Apple is organized differently than almost any other large company in the world. One can argue whether Apple will or will not be successful, but saying that Apple is an old company with an old philosophy is objectively untrue.

      • Kenny

        i do not think so

        know people who spend a lot of time together end up thinking a lot alike.
        The death of Steve Jobs, the maps debacle, stiffening competition, slow pace of innovation give ample room for doubt.

        we can all celebrate Apple today for their great achievement but still in my eyes their Future is still not that an easy task

        in order To compete with Google, Microsoft and IBM on cloud services delivered to mobile phones, tablet, computer for the future of computing, they will need to develop Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions, that they cannot licences but are very far behind and with their paltry R&D investment, and their their Old philosophy, i am not that sure they will able to catch up.

    • Herding_sheep

      Funny you should say that, because Apple is the only large company of its size organized like a very young and vibrant start up. Both in terms of structure as well as philosophically.

      So no, your statement doesn’t ring a bit of truth. Reality is the exact opposite. The Microsoft’s of Silicon Valley are the ones organized much more similar to typical corporate America. Steve Jobs fought desperately to keep that start-up structure and spirit inside the company to keep them creative and very nimble to adapt.

      • Kenny

        you Probably right my Friend they organize like a very young and vibrant start up from 1997 not 2013
        their pace of software and service innovation are very slow compare to other Giant, they relatively low R&D Budget may have something to do with it.

        • Herding_sheep

          Relatively low R&D budget? Oh God, that right there proves you don’t have a clue.

          Apples R&D budget was a fraction of its current size when they were creating the iPhone. Proof that more input does not necessarily equate to more output. Microsoft has always spent a fortune compared to Apple, and has had very little to show for it. Efficiency is a better metric to judge, not inefficient large spending. That being said, Apples R&D investment has risen dramatically just over the past year. So again, you don’t seem to have a clue.

          And care to explain how Apples software innovation “are very slow compare to other Giant?” They release two major operating system releases every single year like clockwork. I wouldn’t call that slow. I’m not sure what planet you live on, but that is the benchmark of this industry.

          The year they were organized is irrelevant. They are organized functionally, like a small start-up. Every other large corporation in tech is organized in divisions. Slow, separate entities that compete with each other in the same company over resources. Bureaucracy and politics destroying creativity and vision. Is that your idea of “hip and modern” corporate structure?

          • Kenny

            read my comment above

            90% of the IDevice are made of Licenses part.
            while that may be a Good strategies for Hardware but are unlikely to work in their next phase of innovation which is cloud services delivered, that requiter Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions to power the next generation of computer hence my Doubt

  • fustian24

    What I think most people forget is that these are not new guys. They were a big part of the run up. One cannot know how much of Apple’s current success belongs to Jobs and how much belongs to Tim Cook, Ives, etc…

    I suspect much of this is competitor-driven FUD try to take advantage of a temporary calm before more waves of Apple technology roll-outs.

    We’ll see though.

    • qka

      Ive, not Ives.

  • Lou Covey

    There are two separate scenarios to the loss of Jobs at Apple. The first time he was removed organizationally before he could train a successor. The second time he was removed organically and had the time to identify a successor. To equate the two scenarios is really faulty.

    • peter

      Also keep in mind that Apple got to ‘practice’ several times with limited involvement of Jobs several times during his illness.

  • AhmadZainiChia

    I guess the thing everyone needs to realize is we can’t have it both ways: we can’t say that Steve Jobs was a brilliant, irreplaceable person, and at the same time say that Apple will be perfectly fine without him. Those two statements are opposing statements.

    So I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. However, in view of the amount of work Steve spent trying to build up the culture of Apple, I think Apple would be just fine. They won’t be the same, but they’d be fine; in some ways better, and in some ways perhaps worst, but not all that much different.

    • FalKirk

      “we can’t say that Steve Jobs was a brilliant, irreplaceable person, and at the same time say that Apple will be perfectly fine without him.”

      Actually, we can. We can’t say that Apple will be the SAME without him. But it can be successful. Just successful in a different way.

      Disney comes to mind, but I’m sure there are lots of better examples of companies surviving and thriving after their founder left.

      • peter

        Best to avoid Disney as an example, they were lost for decades after Walt died. Only under Eisner did they find a sense of direction again.

  • Who thought he was right?

    • Chris Bordeman

      All the people watching the utter lack of innovation at Apple since Jobs died.

  • Steve Chavez

    If Apple still has the DNA of Steve Jobs it will answer accordingly. Apple itself will do the job of telling everybody to penetrate themselves with themselves so to speak. Most casual consumers probably don’t understand the struggle and the fire that this company, even in their success, has ventured through. I don’t believe for a minute that they’ll let up now. I wish them the best.

  • garyb513

    Tim.

    Thanks for writing this piece. I feel for Tim Cook in one regard, he has the job of following a legend. He has my respect for this. Imagine following John Wooden at UCLA, Vince Lombardi at Green Bay, etc. No matter how good you do the job, you cannot satisfy the unrealistic expectations entailed by the former occupant. From what I can tell, Mr. Cook is doing just fine.

  • Mike

    Larry Ellison’s opinion on Apple is an incredibly myopic view, perhaps because of his long friendship with Steve Job.
    I have reasons to believe that Job was both an asset and a liability for Apple, which were almost in balance. His tragic departure has allowed Apple to take advantage of its ingrained business and products philosophy and to open-up on a series of new, exciting, and enormously profitable chapters.

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