Apple should buy big companies, says former boss

By Dave Lee
Technology reporter, BBC News

Media caption,
Apple should use its enormous cash reserves to make some big-name acquisitions, the company's former boss John Sculley says

Apple should use its enormous cash reserves to make some big-name acquisitions, the company's former boss John Sculley has said.

He said it could shift the "whole landscape of e-commerce" if it bought, for example, eBay.

He said it should ignore the wishes of activist investor Carl Icahn, who wants the company to buy back stock.

"Apple's about building great products, building and shaping markets," Mr Sculley said.

"Carl Icahn has suggested to [Apple chief executive] Tim Cook, 'Why don't you buy more stock back or make a bigger dividend?'

"I'd rather see Apple continue to invest in building... even make big acquisitions that were strategic, as opposed to buying more stock back, or giving more dividends."

Mr Sculley was the chief executive of Apple between 1983 and 1993.

During his tenure, he famously engineered the "forcing out" of Steve Jobs from the company - a decision he later said was due to his own inexperience in appreciating Mr Jobs' vision for future products.

Change of strategy

Traditionally, Apple has not acquired large scale companies - instead buying smaller companies with specific technologies, and folding them into the business.

One recent example of this is Siri, a company Apple acquired in 2010 when it wanted to provide an integrated personal assistant on its iPhone and iPad products.

Mr Sculley said that while he had "no insider knowledge" of the firm he left in 1993, he said he now wonders if it is time for Apple to change its growth strategy.

"Apple's never been an acquirer of big companies before, and when you look at the [Apple digital ticket system] Passbook, and fingerprint recognition - what would it mean if Apple went out and bought eBay? And they had PayPal, and integrated that?

"My guess is you'd suddenly see the whole landscape of e-commerce shift.

"You have Amazon, which is on the fast-track to dominate every aspect of e-commerce - suddenly the game, the landscape, would change."

Sensor hopes

Mr Sculley was in London ahead of the UK launch of the latest product he is working on - the Misfit Shine, a wearable device that monitors various aspects of a person's health.

"The future of wearable products has the potential to have a huge impact on healthcare," he said.

He also, at the age of 74, offers his services as a mentor to up and coming Silicon Valley chief executives - something he said he wished he had while at Apple.

"When you're dealing in industries where there's such a thin line between success and failure, having another set of trusted eyes can be a real nice advantage."

Mr Sculley also offered warm words for the soon-to-be-departing Microsoft boss, Steve Ballmer.

"Here's a man who has spent 33 years at Microsoft, loves the company," he said. "He really did not get enough credit for what he did accomplish.

"I can't name a CEO who didn't make some mistakes in the hi-tech industry.

"I think Ballmer has a lot he ought to be proud of. So he didn't get everything right - not many people do."

He added: "I think it's important the CEOs do move on."

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