AMD, Apple & the Cult of Personality

{complink 103|Advanced Micro Devices Inc.}'s stock price went up on news of a new CEO; {complink 379|Apple Inc.}'s went down. Chalk it up to the “cult of personality.”

High-tech has had its share of personalities, but no one has achieved cult status quite like Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg may come close, but only if {complink 10867|Facebook} has the kind of staying power that Apple has demonstrated over the years.

AMD's appointment of former IBM/Lenovo executive Rory Read as CEO hasn't generated as much buzz as Jobs's resignation. That may be a function of timing (I doubt AMD and Apple coordinate their PR schedules). AMD has understandably been in stealth mode as it has searched for a new chief executive and fended off rumors of a takeover. Feedback about the company's introductory conference call has been neutral. Read didn't say anything controversial, which seems like the right move for AMD.

There's a part of me, however, that yearns for some kind of drama from AMD. I was covering the high-tech industry for EBN when Jerry Sanders was CEO of AMD. Sanders was an outspoken, take-no-prisoners type of executive who wasn't afraid to heckle the 800-pound gorilla that is {complink 2657|Intel Corp.}. I never had the privilege of meeting Sanders face to face, but I did visit the company's headquarters. At Sanders's behest, the lobby was decorated in green and purple — the colors, an AMD employee told me, of money and royalty.

I found that hilarious. Still do.

Apple wouldn't be the company it is today without brilliant engineering. But the force of Jobs's personality is one of the things that propelled the PC out the business and office environment into the pop culture realm. Product announcements in blue jeans and longish hair are Jobs's trademark. As unconventional as many tech companies have became — and Microsoft set the pattern here — Apple is still the prime symbol of the counter-cultural Silicon Valley startup.

I've been covering electronics for longer than I care to mention, so I've attended a CES or two. Most of the time, game systems were the big draw; and the first HDTV was a real eye-opener. But I remember standing in the middle of a crowd at CES waiting for a press conference to start when someone with a big TV camera elbowed his way by. He saw my press badge and said “You cover the electronics industry? Can we interview you? Apple's making a big announcement.”

Wisely, before opening my mouth, I looked at his press credentials. They were from Entertainment Tonight. They knew nothing about electronics, but they had heard of Apple and Steve Jobs. (I passed on the interview.)

Companies like AMD have survived and thrived after the departure of a strong personality. Apple will, too. Apple's stock has already ticked up a notch or two since this morning. Let's give Steve Jobs his due, but let's not forget Apple is first and foremost a business. If the fundamentals are sound — and they are — its future won't be determined by the cult of personality.

17 comments on “AMD, Apple & the Cult of Personality

  1. Tim Votapka
    August 25, 2011

    Fond memories, eh Barbara? I can relate. The most interesting personalities I've met or had the pleasure to listen to at conferences and otherwise have hung their hats in this industry. Steve Jobs is one of them.

  2. Parser
    August 25, 2011

    Although Apple is a business with solid foundation a new management style will change that in time. Possibly they will hold to success, but we never know. It will be hard to repeat Steve Jobs accomplishments. The effect of the new management style will be seen in product releases a year from now. 

  3. Daniel
    August 26, 2011

    Barbara, you are right. CEO has a major role in growth and diversification of the company. If he had some good track records in his account about managing any company or valued contribution to the business community, of course investors may put a faith and hope on him. The mission and vision of any company purlly depends up on the personality factor of the head of any company. This personality factor can reflect in share market also.

    August 26, 2011

    Hi Barb….you should not have passed on the Entertainment Tonight interview.  You might now have been as famous as Steve Jobs !  I agree we need some new personalities in the business.  It is just like many people say about the world of sport where the new guys seem eager to be too PC for fear of the media (or losing big endorsement contracts).

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 26, 2011

    Oh yeah. I haven't even started on the distributors yet. I may wait until post-retirement to write those memoirs…

  6. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 26, 2011

    FlyingScot–I've thought about that! I was still pretty wide-eyed and tongue-tied in those days and terrified of being on camera. As a matter of fact, I have a set a new low for video-blogging (the beta-test which will never see the light of day.) You are right though–who knows where it might have gone? Steve Jobs was a garage-dweller when he first started out.

  7. Tim Votapka
    August 26, 2011

    Now that would be a coffee table book I'd like to collaborate on Barbara! It should pay homage to the Crow's Nest of course – East and West.

  8. bolaji ojo
    August 26, 2011

    Barbara, One of my primary concerns about Apple is the overwhelming association of the company with one single individual. A company is supposed to be an enduring enterprise. While the potential lifespan of an individual can be fairly determined, companies shouldn't be as easily pegged. Apple became almost synonymous with Steve Jobs. That wasn't Jobs' fault but now the two are slowly parting ways as they must. Let's hope Apple doesn't become a victim of its co-founder's oversized personality.

  9. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 27, 2011

    In the technical and investor  circles the name APPLE may be closely associated with STEVE JOBS. But if we  talk to any of those IPAD or IPHONE users they may not even have heard the name of Steve Jobs.Especially the Asian market.

    And today the products have created a brand image for Apple and not vice a versa.

    So as long as Apple continues its tradition of giving elegant products – whether Steve Jobs is there or not does not matter.

    The personality does matter when a company is facing a downturn. because it is in the downturn when the strong CEOs like Stev Jobs( APPLE), Ravi Pandit ( Citibank) can really help those sinking corporation to come out of troubled waters.


  10. t.alex
    August 27, 2011

    Hmmm so what is Rory Read gonna do at AMD?

  11. Taimoor Zubar
    August 28, 2011

    Besides Jobs's personality, I think what makes his departure so dramatic is also related with Apple's past. After Steve Jobs was fired, Apple plunged down deeply for many years, only to be rescued by Jobs again. This miraculous turnaround gives a feeling to many that Apple is heavily reliant on Steve Jobs. Only time will tell how valid these concerns are.

  12. Ms. Daisy
    August 28, 2011

    Very valid concerns. Hopefully the products that have now created a brand image for Apple will help Aple survive this reputation of dependency on Steve Jobs to thrive. Yes time will tell, but continued innovation of products will help!

  13. Ms. Daisy
    August 28, 2011

    Bolaji, Apple is already the victim of its co-founder's personality based on the fact that Apple's stocks plunged down to low  depths for many years after Steve Jobs was fired and only rebounded upon his return and has soared since then.

    Even though Apple is in capable hands now, it will be hard for stakeholders to trust that Steve's Jobs departure again will not lead to another slump. Hopefully the company can come up with new or enhanced products after his departure to put this reputation to rest.

  14. mario8a
    August 29, 2011


    I like the way you described this, and I think it applies for all the great companies out there.


    Apple wouldn't be the company it is today without brilliant engineering. But the force of Jobs's personality is one of the things that propelled the PC out the business and office environment into the pop culture realm

  15. Himanshugupta
    August 29, 2011

    Barbara, i kind-off smiled at your paragraph “…when someone with a big TV camera elbowed his way…Can we interview you? …”. You sounded like a superior race than that of the ET crew!

  16. Tim Votapka
    August 29, 2011

    Very well said, Bolaji. Reeling the concept back to just the distribution industry, there have been many examples where larger-than-life personalities may have set the tone for the organization without having its future depend entirely on their presence. If Steve Jobs set good policies in, then the transition should go well. Let's ask “Joe Public” a year or so from now when he's buying his iPod 6 or whatever they call the generation at that point.

  17. Mr. Roques
    August 30, 2011

    I wonder why AMD or any other company has gone the Apple-way. It obviously works.

    They control hardware and software, and the DoJ doesn't have a problem with that, and it allows the company to better design the user experience. 

    Do you know of any current or previous efforts to do that?

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