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Double Your Profits in Two Years or Less

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Society was the source of the tremendous energy that drove the growth of Apple during the late 1970s and 1980s. Steve Jobs’ real genius was in tuning into the unexpressed aspirations of his generation and giving concrete expression to them in the products he marketed. It is difficult now to recall the level of anxiety people felt about the coming of the computer age and fear of domination or replacement of the individual by huge impersonal mainframes. Apple announced the launch of its Macintosh computer with a thirty-second TV advertisement during half time at the 1984 Super Bowl game. The ad depicted a woman athlete carrying a javelin running through a huge assembly of robot-like marching androids, who were listening mesmerized to a father-like figure addressing them in a metallic voice on a huge screen. Chased by policemen, the woman approached the screen, threw the javelin at it and smashed the image. The father figure represented Big Brother as depicted in George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. The automatons were the masses of humanity brainwashed and deprived of their freedom and dignity by an authoritarian regime. The symbolism was obvious. IBM was Big Brother. The athlete was Apple. The ad ended with one line, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like Nineteen Eighty-Four.” There was no image of the product. The message was clear. The Macintosh had come to save individuality from a slow death by mechanization and impersonal social conformity.  Jobs was not selling a computer. He was appealing to the aspiration of the young generation for freedom from domination by technology. With missionary zeal, he announced a social revolution – to make technology serve people and empower rather than dominate them. The ad was an astounding success. It was voted the most successful ad in history up to that time. Although sales of the Macintosh never reached anticipated levels after Jobs’ sudden exit from the company, a whole generation heard the message, and responded with admiration. The Macintosh altered history and set the direction for the future of computing.

A few months later I was asked by my co-author which of the many great companies we had studied – companies that included Apple, Bata, Coke, Delta, DuPont, Intel, IBM, Levi Strauss, Marriott, Northwestern Mutual and Sears – did I consider the best investment for the future. “Where would you put your money for the long term?” At the time Apple was the youngest and smallest company among them. I chose Apple because I felt that it was in deeper alignment with emerging social aspirations than any other company on the list. A few months later, Apple fired Jobs and I began to think I had been too hasty in my selection. Twelve years later Jobs returned to Apple and picked up where he had left off. He realized that the personal computer had become a commodity which could be more cheaply produced overseas and offered no assured future for Apple. So he shifted focus from making products to delivering personalized services to customers through integrated delivery systems. In 2001 he launched the iPod as a complete music distribution and entertainment system, which integrated a stand-alone music player with a personal computer, iTunes online music store and the music publishing industry. The iPod demonstrated in concrete terms how Jobs’ vision of user friendly technology could be placed at the service of the individual. The rest of the story is too well-known to need repetition. He launched the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. By 2014 the company he had founded in his garage with $5000 had become the most valuable company in the history of the world with a market cap of $800 billion.

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