Apple is currently the world’s largest tech company, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Established on 1 April, 1976, Apple has moved from CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs’ garage, to offices in 317 locations around the world, plus 323 Apple Stores. The past 10 years has seen Apple redefine consumer electronics and become a household name. With Apple at the height of its success, we look back over the past 35 years to see what made it the company it is today.
1985-97: Sculley, Spindler and Amelio
The trio of leaders who followed in Jobs’ footsteps enjoyed limited success in the role
By the time Sculley took over, Apple had developed a highly politicised product-based management. Through a series of painful redundancies, (which Steve Wozniak called “a time of desperation”) Sculley created a more focused corporate structure, winning Apple’s staff loyalty with a legendary speech where he said, “Apple beats with two hearts – our Californian heart and the heart of the local company.”
Two-hearted Apple now offered two platforms: the text-based and affordable Apple II range and the GUI-based Macintosh.
The Apple IIc was replaced with the mouse-controlled Apple IIgs shortly after the launch of the Mac. Sculley wanted to get rid of the II range, but its success underwrote Apple’s whole business way into the early 90s when they were finally binned.
Apple’s Apple II quickly developed an appeal for being the ultimate text-based personal computer, but its advertising, like its interface, now seems very dated
Meanwhile, the Macintosh prevailed. Successive models, including the Mac Plus, Mac SE, Mac Classic and Mac LC, carried the torch into the next decade. Sculley’s well-received PowerBook debuted in 1991. Developed with Sony, this became the blueprint for what a notebook could be. People marvelled at its inclusion of a trackball, an industry first. The PowerBook generated $1bn in sales in its first year, hinting at the future importance of mobile products.
Times were good. Between 1987-89, Apple’s sales grew by more than $2bn. Then, in 1990, they rose by just $10m. Apple’s strategy of releasing high-end products with high-profit margins was beginning to fail in the face of much stiffer competition. As the decade began Microsoft – which had forced Apple to licence GUI technologies in a deal agreed by Sculley – introduced Windows 3.0. Apple shipped System 7.
Microsoft’s talent for strong-arm marketing damaged the poorly marketed Apple. It didn’t help that Sculley’s Apple now offered multiple Macs for multiple markets with very little to differentiate the machines. Apple’s inventory management was poor, its strategic direction fuzzy and its move to adopt the PowerPC chip gave Windows-based competitors a technical advantage. Failure in the enterprise market and growing Windows market share put the writing on the wall.
In 1993 – the same year the much-loved but ahead-of-its-time Newton PDA shipped – Apple’s board forced Sculley out while promoting European president, Michael Spindler, to CEO. Spindler slashed 15 per cent of the workforce and licensed the Mac OS to third-party firms including Radius, Motorola and Power Computing, ushering in the age of the Mac clones. He also led Apple’s search for a takeover. But after a deal to merge with Sun failed, Spindler was out. He was replaced by National Semiconductor CEO and Apple board member, Gil Amelio, in 1996.