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"Apple only looks at itself"

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Apple is still the master of all classes and the most valuable company in the world. But Springer author Nils Jacobsen sees the cult company at a turning point.

What is the cult and mysticism of the Apple brand? How can a company have such fanatical fans?

It goes back to the founding days of the 1970s. To this day, Apple lives on the spirit of its visionary founder. Steve Jobs embodies everything that is often lost between bits and bytes: The human side of the tech revolution with all our longings, wishes and desires. Apple stands for the cool in the tech world: It began as an anti-IBM and positioned itself as the alternative to the narrow-minded Windows world. Since the iCycle, which began with the iMac in the late 90s, Apple has been the epitome of the better life: Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads are symbols of a better life - they are more beautiful than any other gadget and help the owner thus becoming a status symbol that he might not otherwise have in life. More than any other brand - at most comparable to the exclusive fashion labels Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton - the bitten apple has become a code to belong. It's kind of like a cult, actually. Followers react correspondingly emotionally when the radiance of their fixed star is questioned.

Is there an Apple-style management style? Does the leadership style differ from other global players?

Absolutely. Apple only looks at itself. Apple does not comment on anything. That makes Apple problematic as an investment: The stock is always easy prey for rumors, even if they are still outrageous. In its core business, too, Apple is pursuing a strategy based on extremely isolationist doctrine: The company is constantly ranting that it does not want to manufacture most products, but rather the best - regardless of how this is measured. The approach is not without its risks - as Wall Street likes to say: it works well until it goes wrong. It has been fine for the past 15 years, but the ice is getting thinner. With its ignorance, Apple missed the phablet trend and left the television market aside for too long. Where's the Apple TV Steve Jobs talked about in the Walter Isaacson biography? And why has Samsung tripled its smartphone sales in the past two years while iPhone growth continues to flatten? And why is Google entering a new market every month while Apple hasn't launched a new product in four years? These are the risks of an almost autistic corporate style like the one Apple is displaying.

The late founder Steve Jobs coined the Apple brand. How can it be that a single person in one of the largest corporations in the world has such an influence?

Steve Jobs was Apple. The first ten years from the founding of Apple to its spectacular expulsion in 1985 made Jobs immortal with the Macintosh - he was the Mark Zuckerberg of the 80s. In many ways, the young Apple was the blueprint for tech and internet startups for the next three decades. When Apple debuted on Wall Street in 1980, it was the biggest IPO since Ford in 1955. The real myth of Jobs was founded on his second term from 1997 to 2011, which can safely be celebrated as the biggest comeback in economic history. What Jobs has achieved in these 14 years with the turnaround of an almost certain bankruptcy candidate into the most valuable company in the world is absolutely unique - the greatest management achievement in human history. At the same time, this burden is larger than life for the successor, Tim Cook. In his external portrayal, Cook is the greatest possible opposite of Jobs: He is anything but eloquent, he does not embody Jobs ’casualness and certainly not his genius. It has to be said so clearly: As well-versed as Cook, as a man in the background, may manage the operative business and optimize the supply chain - he is not suitable as a figurehead. I could very well imagine Cook not staying on as CEO until the end of his contract in 2021.

Springer for professionals: You describe Apple as a sluggish tech giant that has seen its prime. This accusation has been around for years. What's different in 2014?

Nils Jacobsen: I wouldn't go that far: The question of whether Apple actually has the best years behind it has not yet been finally decided. But the trend has definitely turned - and faster than you could have expected. 2013 was not a good year for Apple: For the first time in more than a decade, profits fell again - and even in double digits. Even more worrying: three out of four company divisions are no longer growing. We don't have to talk about the iPod anymore, the Mac division is doomed to shrink in the post-PC age, but it is a fact that even the youngest business division, the iPad unit, has already reached its growth limits after less than four years severe setback for Apple, which was certainly not planned in this form. Apple is and will remain the iPhone company that generates more than 60 percent of its profits with the cult smartphone. The problem: The iPhone is in the eighth year of its life cycle ’- the growth potential seems pretty exhausted. Thanks to the China Mobile deal and the launch of a large iPhone 6, Apple is likely to have another golden year ahead of this year, but by 2015 at the latest, a new “one more thing” must come onto the market that is doomed to success.

Do technology companies inevitably have a manageable life cycle?

Absolutely. The IT world is shaped like no other industry by the recurring pattern of creative destruction. A company succeeds in a groundbreaking innovation that revolutionizes an industry - and accordingly costs the top dogs market share. If this innovation becomes the new standard, it will change the balance of power in the industry. Let's think back to Google and Yahoo. Yahoo once backed Google with venture capital in the late 1990s and wanted to buy Google, but the Mountain View start-up owned the proprietary search technology and quickly became the gold standard. The rest is modern technology history: within a decade, Google has developed from an up-and-coming start-up to by far the most valuable internet company in the world, which is worth ten times as much as Yahoo.Apple's problem in life cycle theory: If we are over today talk to the iGroup, then we do it at the peak of its 38-year company history. In our perception, Apple is the natural top dog, the master of all classes, FC Bayern of the tech and stock market world. History teaches, however, that this status quo cannot be maintained: always winning everything is not a natural state. And if the trend changes, it can happen very quickly, see the current Blackberry and Nokia. The high-tech industry is therefore the most brutal branch in the world: Darwinism prevails - the all-or-nothing principle.

Does success feed you? Or can managers stay hungry, crazy, and creative all the time?

In theory, yes. But why do these successful series keep tearing, regardless of whether in the world of sport, politics or the business world, why does no empire last for eternity? In addition to the regularity of creative destruction, psychological processes also play a bigger role than we might think at first glance. Apple's leadership team is essentially the same people who made the company big under Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs has decided on Tim Cook as his successor, Jony Ive designed Apple's successful products from the very first iMac, and Phil Schiller has been in charge of marketing since the late 90s. The fact that after 15 years in the fast lane signs of saturation set in is as human as it is indispensable. The real question that arises, however, is: Can Apple also defend success? Apple's secret of success over the past three decades has been that of an underdog: First it was the cool challenger from IBM, then the alternative to the narrow-minded Windows world. And now? Today Apple is mainstream, the top dog par excellence, the master of all classes - and thus the first target. This will be heard more often in the coming years: Apple management is between their mid-40s and mid-50s - a time when it seems legitimate to wonder what you expect from the rest of your (professional) life. Apple urgently needs a blood freshening up, instead Cook hires full fashion managers in the 50s. With all due respect: Nothing against the newcomers from Burberry and Ives Saint Laurent - but the next Apple CEO should be Elon Musk, not Angela Ahrendts.

Will the Apple brand still please us with its products in 30 years? What products could that be?

I'm pretty sure Apple will still be around 30 years from now: Apple won't be the next Nokia, Blackberry or HP. 150 billion dollars on the high edge, the most formidable hedge in the world, Apple would have to do pretty much everything wrong from now on and lose its billions instead of earning a billion every ten days. Despite all justified criticism, it must be said: Apple is doing very, very well today - and little should change in this in the short to medium term, the buyers are too loyal for that and the iTunes user ecosystem is too closed. I can see this iCycle, the legacy of Steve Jobs, go on for a few more years. If Apple defied the unwritten rule of rise and fall and would still be the most valuable corporation in the world in 30 years, it would probably need five more blockbuster products in the dimensions of the iPhone by 2044. And I think that, with all due respect, is rather unlikely.

Springer author Nils Jacobsen ("The Apple Imperium"):
Nils Jacobsen, born in 1974, is a proven Apple expert and business journalist with over 15 years of editorial experience. Born in the Hanseatic League, in countless articles since the mid-1990s, he has followed Apple's astonishing rise to what is now the most valuable corporation of all time. On the Facebook page you can find more information about the book “Das Apple-Imperium”.