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The July 9 management shake-up that proved to be Apple's salvation

Gil Amelio was a highly regarded tech executive. But his ouster as CEO paved the way for the return of Apple's prodigal son, Steve Jobs.

Former Apple CEO Gil Amelio Getty Images

With the dog days of summer upon us, the tech world could use a diversion beyond the seemingly endless PRISM story and the accompanying saga of one Edward Snowden. So it is that one popular parlor game within some segments of the chattering class is to pose the seemingly provocative question of whether Apple's best days are behind it.

Everything is relative and the same might also be asked of Apple rival Samsung, which just this week revealed that it will finish up its second quarter way short of analyst projections. Truth be told, this is all part of the usual background noise that dominates the vacuum left by the summer slowdown in the news cycle. So save the debate for another couple of months. Come this fall, when the company is expected to make several big product announcements -- perhaps new iPhones, iPads, or even a new tech gadget like a smart watch or Apple TV -- we'll have a clearer idea whether Apple still has its mojo.

Even putting the question in such stark terms is a bit cliche -- especially when you think back a few years to when Apple was pushed to the precipice. In fact, as happenstance would have it, today is the anniversary of one of those events that in retrospect turn out to be proverbial turning points. On July 9, 1997, Apple announced yet another of the endless management shake-ups that had plagued the company since the unraveling of John Sculley's regime. But this time it was different. In a big way.

That's because the shakeup forced out Gil Amelio as CEO. Amelio, who earned his rep at National Semiconductor by cutting costs and returning the company to profitability, was a disaster at Apple. Only a few months earlier, Apple had announced plans to fire 2,700 permanent employees and cut 1,400 part-time and temporary workers. But shrinking its way to profitability by matching expenses with declining revenues -- hardly the stuff of legend.

With Amelio out of the way, Steve Jobs now expanded his role officially. Jobs now was in the thick of it as an adviser to the board and Apple's executive management team. He was also part of a committee charged with searching out a new chief executive.

We know how that story turned out.

Also, the shake-up involved the resignation of Vice President of Technology Ellen Hancock. That proved critical, as her responsibilities got reassigned to former NeXT hotshot and Jobs ally Avie Tevanian, as well as to Jon Rubinstein, who went on to a storied career as a hardware engineering guru.

And if you're looking for historical irony, let's recall that it was Amelio, a half year earlier, who set the process in motion that led to his ouster, when he pushed for the acquisition of NeXT, which brought Jobs back into Apple.

July 9, 1997. A date to remember for Apple.