05 December 2009

Gil Amelio

Described by the press, in his time, as gentlemanly, charming, modest and thoughtful, it is widely agreed that Gil Amelio was presented with a nigh-on-impossible task as leader of Apple computer, and even more widely-agreed that he didn't do tremendously well.

But that sounds harsh. Because Amelio was successful in solving the immediate difficulties of Apple, focusing initially on the financial crisis, moving onto issues of quality control and the OS Strategy. It was this last item that Gil never quite got right; an endless series of failed and abandoned codenames formed a veritable dungeon of next-gen operating systems that would never see the light of day.

Amelio's problems, really, stemmed from the institutional nature of Apple Computer. Amelio was well aware that Apple was often accused (not necessarily incorrectly) of valuing innovation over competition, and his solution was a bizarre determination to split the hardware and software businesses into two separate parts, something which seems quite peculiar in the light of today's intensely integrated hardware and software. Even so, Amelio was not alone in this view, though even with the support of John Sculley, the idea of Apple becoming competitive didn't rest easily with the Apple institution. "If the hardware people needed to sell Windows machines, then they would." - blasphemy, surely?

What was worse for Amelio was the lurking spectre of Steve Jobs. After acquiring Next, Steve (possessed by the firm belief that Apple was different and that's how it would stay), was prowling round Apple's campus as an advisor. Apple's board, reminded of the old days, were only too keen to believe him. Apple may have bought NeXT, but NeXT took over Apple...

Amelio did his best. And at the end of it, on July 9, 1997, he resigned. Later, after expounding his views in the book On The Firing Line: My 500 Days At Apple, one is left with the conclusion that Gil Amelio did the best he could with an impossible task.
"Apple will not fix its problems just by being cool. I honestly think that Apple needs someone more like me than like Steve. What Apple needs, if it is ever to become a competitor, is a disciplined, professional manager."

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