Amelio: Jobs a cheerleader, not manager

Breaking a public silence since his ouster as Apple CEO, Gil Amelio addresses everything from Mac cloning to Steve Jobs in a radio talk show.

3 min read
If you had randomly tuned in to this morning's two-hour live interview with
Gil Amelio, you might have thought that the ousted CEO of Apple Computer (AAPL) was still running the company.

For one thing, Amelio said he disagreed with Apple's decision to abandon its Macintosh cloning strategy and in particular would not have alienated Motorola, which decided this week to stop making Mac clones.

"I think the relationship with Motorola goes back 20 years, and it is absolutely essential to keep that on track," Amelio said. When asked if Apple had made a strategic mistake, he replied carefully: "On the surface of it, it certainly doesn't look like it's going in the right direction."

The outgoing chief executive made his candid comments on Tom King's CompuTalk call-in radio show. During the live broadcast, the man who was removed after only 17 months at Apple also spoke out on issues such as why he brought Steve Jobs back into the Apple fold and who should be the new CEO.

Amelio, who has shied away from the press since his July ouster, said he agreed to the call-in interview show because "it's important that people get a perspective. The press is filled with reports on it, and not many of them are very accurate."

During the call-in show, Amelio seemed as comfortable taking questions about the attributes of color laser printers and the finer technical points of operating systems as he was about policy. He had a guy-next-door quality about him--albeit a techie one--decidedly different from Apple cofounder Jobs, whom Amelio brought back to the company just in time for him to help oust the CEO.

Still, Amelio said he is convinced that bringing back Jobs was a good decision. "I told him, 'Steve, I'll never be as charismatic as you are, and you'll never be as good of an operating manager as I am. You can't run a corporation...by just being cool,'" Amelio said he told Jobs upon his return to Apple.

For the record, Jobs has said he doesn't want Amelio's old job--and Amelio clearly thinks that's a good decision. Apple needs a cheerleader like Jobs, he said, but also needs a sound manager like, well, Amelio.

When asked who he thought would be the best candidate for his old job, Amelio mentioned Intuit chief executive and new Apple board member Bill Campbell, who has reportedly said he doesn't want the job.

Amelio defended his decisions while running the company, saying that he was able to bring Apple "back on its feet again" by getting it more cash; by cleaning up the quality of products, and by shaking up an entrenched employee culture that was good at innovation but bad at competition.

He said Apple needs to continue along that path--learning to compete and making the product more attractive to the mainstream consumer--if it wants to stay afloat. That's where the cloning issue comes in.

Amelio said Mac clone makers pushed Apple to become more competitive, something that has been a major weakness for the company. "Apple was a great innovator, but I thought we needed to learn how to be a great competitor, and I felt the clones helped us do that," he said.

But he also said that Apple had been trying to renegotiate terms of the agreements it made with Mac OS 7 and was pushing for a "tougher deal."

As for his own future, Amelio said he remains undecided. "I will be in high technology," he said. "I will hopefully be doing something very new. I'm looking at frankly, exploring some totally new ideas and seeing what I can do with them."

But this he is sure of: He will be booted from his office on the Apple campus by the end of the month.