Imagine Apple with an MBA at top, no Steve Jobs

Apple would probably cease to exist if it was run by a cutthroat MBA texbook-thumping executive. Innovation and product risk-taking just isn't in their DNA.

By-the-numbers MBAs are not always a good fit for U.S. companies. Particularly those in the business of product innovation. Just imagine a bean-counting mathematical-model-driven MBA running Apple.

Instead of the iPad, we might have an Apple Netbook. Instead of the iPhone, a Rokr. In short, products that are low risk, devoid of inspiration, and easy on the balance sheet.

MBA-as-CEO is a point eloquently made by Bob Lutz, the former Vice Chairman of General Motors. While MBAs have a role to play, the by-the-numbers, post-1970s variety sitting at the top of the corporate chain of command can be devastating for companies in dire need of a different kind of management.

Imagine an Apple executive with an engineering background pitching the MacBook Air to a CEO we'll call Chainsaw Al (no relation to "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap. Sheer coincidence).

Al (Apple CEO): "What? You're saying you want to build a unibody laptop out of one piece of aluminum with only a few connectors? Do you know how much that will cost to build? I don't see anyone else doing it? HP? Sony? And who's going to buy it? Are you brain-dead?"

Would a by-the-numbers MBA CEO green-light an iPad?
Would a by-the-numbers MBA CEO green-light an iPad? Apple

"OK, hear me out on another idea," the Apple engineer pleads. "A slate or tablet form factor. 10-inch diagonal. Very light, very portable. Under 1.5 pounds. Runs essentially the same OS as a smartphone."

Chainsaw Al: "Hold it. Stop. I've heard enough. 10 inches but no physical keyboard? What would anyone use it for? Just buy a laptop. And we already make those. And I suppose you'd want to make that out of aluminum too with almost no ports. What rock did you crawl out from under? Where's your cost argument? Didn't you get the memo?"

Maybe slightly overdramatized, but you get the point. Luckily, there are other Silicon Valley companies that match Apple in engineering-driven design and long-term outlook. One would be Intel. And Intel does Apple one better by making stuff in the U.S. (via multibillion dollar investments in its U.S. chip plants). Apple, on the other hand, farms out manufacturing to companies in Asia like Foxconn (iPad, iPhone) and Samsung (A5 processor).

But I digress. The fact is that Apple makes well-engineered products that are very different from what other computer/electronics companies make. And you will find few, if any, companies in Silicon Valley or the U.S auto industry that exceed the threshold of greatness with a Chainsaw Al at the helm.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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