Apple stock hit a record high of $207.05 and is now officially the first American company to be valued at $1 trillion, according to CNN and other financial media. The company is known for product innovation, Steve Jobs' unique management style and a bold move into its own retail stores (among many other things).

Now it can add longevity and record-setting earnings to its list of accomplishments. 

But what are those critical decisions and moments that enabled a tech company to survive four decades? And, as important, what were some of the dark moments along the way that should never be forgotten amid the champagne-popping times? What can you take away from their journey?

  1. Steve Jobs made many  mistakes along the way. In fact, the first version of the Mac was about the hardware rather than the software. You can design a great product, but it ultimately has to have true value to the end user. If you're in business, you're going to screw up more than once. Owning and learning from your errors is key.
  2. Apple created some product extensions that flopped. Ping, for example, was Apple's attempt at building a social network. It was an add-on to iTunes. Although shutting down Ping allowed Spotify to own the social music space, according to Business Insider, it enabled Apple to concentrate on what it does best. Even well-capitalized companies sometimes need to make traded-off decisions.
  3. The worst-ever day in Apple history was March 28th, 1996 when it reported a $700 million loss for the previous quarter, according to Cult of Mac. About half of that was due to unsold products, although that's hard to imagine in 2018, as people line-up outside The Apple Store for new product releases. The company brought in seasoned talent -- turnaround specialist Gil Amelio -- to fix the company's many problems. Although he cut heads and made some difficult decisions, companies can only survive by finding the right talent who can make fast and tough moves.
  4. The iconic brand sometimes hurt its own reputation by making unpopular decisions. The 2017 "battery-gate" controversy, for example, involved Apple's secretly slowing down performance in older phones. Although they subsequently apologized and offered battery replacements for $29, the PR damage was already done. Just as Facebook discovered during privacy breaches, being honest early-on with your loyal fans reinforces trust. Consumers today value brands that are transparent. 

This is just a small sample of the hundreds -- if not thousands -- of "rotten apples" in Apple's long history. In fact, the media has delighted over the past 40 years in listing every stumble and fall. 

On the flip side, we should all be looking at the many things that Apple has done incredibly well during that period:

  1. Creating truly innovative products, taking risks, and continuously evolving. Although many of these guesses are speculation, Apple Pay (the ability to use ones phone as a transaction device) or FaceTime (seeing the person you're speaking to) are great examples of seemingly futuristic predictions that Apple brought to life.
  2. Building a memorable brand image. One icon tells the whole story. Although the apple image has evolved over time (like most great logos), it is often used as an academic and industry case study as a simple yet powerful illustration that has withstood the test of time. 
  3. Redefining the retail experience. The company was the first to make technology shopping fun and engaging. The bold exteriors, the clean, simple, and easy-to-navigate design, the Genius Bar (for help), and the greeters who engage with the customer immediately are all examples of retail magic that other companies have tried to emulate -- including Microsoft.
  4. Respecting history. Although Jobs died in 2011, the soul and philosophies of his live on in those three successes. He was passionate, rebellious, far-sighted, tenacious, and often tough, according to those who worked with and wrote about him, as well as the many business analysts and media who attempt to dissect his personality, including Wired and six films about his life.    "New" is great, but sometimes keeping the core of how a business was birthed can be the key to its longevity and prosperity. 

Published on: Aug 3, 2018