Thursday, August 25, 2011

Examine Disney for insight on the future of Apple

The news wires are abuzz today with speculation on the future of Apple. Stepping down as CEO, Steve Jobs has made a little more real, the inevitability of his ultimate departure.

Some believe that the death of Steve Jobs means the death of Apple. Others, who view themselves as pragmatic realists foresee a bland and boring future for a company that will lose its defining spark, and its ultimate shepherd. Apple and its customers are widely described as in the thrall of the "Cult of Steve". What will happen when Steve is gone?

I find an interesting model for the future in Disney. Like Apple, Disney was founded by a visionary who saw the world's favorite play space where others saw just a swamp. Remember that construction of Walt Disney World, a property that defined the Disney company going forward, was begun the year after Walt's death. (Somewhere out in The Net is the account of Walt pushing through the planning for Disney World from his hospital bed. When I find it, I'll link to it here.)

It should be reassuring to Apple customers and stockholders that, unlike Disney, Apple got the chance to explore life without their visionary. At that time, the accepted wisdom was that Apple could only succeed by breaking with the approach of "that crazy Steve Jobs". Steve's return showed how to hew to his vision, come back from behind and change the world with unimagined levels of success.

A decade ago, David Pogue wrote In Praise of Corporate Tyranny for Macworld. Will Apple maintain focus without Steve Jobs to crack the whip, and reset expectations and behavior?

When the founding visionary goes, those left behind must imagine a way forward guided by belief. Instead of the unpleasant but simple intervention by the Tyrant, there will need to be discussion and consensus building. It will not be efficient, but it can achieve greatness. Jim Collins in Good to Great documents know companies guided by a common vision can go farther than those operated by "one great man with a thousand assistants".

Disney, with the common theme of "What would Walt do?" exploits and refines a cult of personality into great experiences for guests and excellent profits for stockholders. I expect that Apple will do the same. Those who disagree would do well to review Disney's history.

Epilogue:  5 October 2018.

25 August 2011, when I wrote this post, Apple stock closed at $53.39.

The first iPad was a year and a half old.

There was no Apple watch.

Today Apple stock closed at 227.99.  According to a CAGR calculator I found on the web, that's a compound annual growth rate of 19.9%.

This time, it appears I was right. And I put my money where my mouth was, so I reaped the benefits of my convictions for a change. YAY!

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