Originally created 04/11/98

Amelio says Apple was undisciplined



SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Apple Computer, says a former chief executive, lacked the "hum" of discipline and common purpose he found when he visited such successful, competitive companies as Microsoft and Intel.

Apple, Gil Amelio believed, should be "wild and crazy" 5 percent of the time but businesslike the other 95 percent. "What we sort of did was have that upside down," he said.

"I found a situation (at Apple) where there was a lot of spontaneity and creativity, and while those things are good, at some point, when a company gets large enough, it has to do those things in measure," said Amelio.

He's giving his side of the story as he promotes a tell-all book about the company, "On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple."

The clash of cultures was a serious problem that got as basic as how you dressed for work, Amelio told some 200 people a Silicon Valley bookstore Thursday night. It was his only public appearance to promote the book.

Amelio, noting the casual attire of his audience, took off his jacket and loosened his tie.

It was a new approach for a man who began his ill-fated tenure as Apple Computer's chief executive by wearing staid business attire -- and making a point of it.

Apple employees were puzzled, he said.

"What I said was, `I want to remind you that it's business,"' Amelio said. "`When we're making lots of money and being successful I'll lose the coat and tie."'

That never happened. Apple continued to lose money, sales and market share. Amelio, hired in February 1996 to turn the company around, was ousted 18 months later.

The head of National Semiconductor Inc., Amelio enjoyed a reputation for reviving troubled companies when Apple hired him as chairman and CEO.

Both in his book and talk, Amelio blames Apple's culture -- casual and spontaneous but unfocused and contemptuous of authority -- for much of the difficulties he faced there.

"Apple is the only company I know of that when the CEO gives an order it's viewed as a suggestion," Gil Amelio says.

Compounding that was the ingrained attitude of many managers that a CEO was "some airhead" fit to deal with the public and shareholders but not to be trusted with making technical decisions, said Amelio, who has a doctorate in physics and holds 16 patents.

Amelio also pointed to what he called his accomplishments: boosting cash reserves, fixing on a new software strategy and improving product quality.

But he also acknowledged his mistakes, namely predicting when Apple would start making money again, delaying an aggressive advertising campaign, and misjudging how far Apple would shrink before hitting bottom.

In the book, Amelio also depicts himself as the victim of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, whom he describes as smart, charming, complex and less than straightforward.

Amelio simply didn't believe Jobs' assurance that he wasn't involved in the ouster.

"I have worked through my disappointment in the way Steve Jobs treated me, but shall never forget the pain of it," he wrote.

Apple and Jobs have no comment to Amelio's book, said company spokeswoman Tami Begasse.

Amelio, now a partner in a San Francisco investment firm, acknowledged receiving criticism for telling tales and naming names. But he said he was as hard on himself as anyone else.

"It is very much my personal story ... how I saw it," he said. "Someone else may have seen it differently, and they of course are entitled to their opinion."