I consulted for Steve Jobs, and later for Apple, from 1983 through the early 1990s ("Steve Jobs, Apple, and the Limits of Innovation," January). Apple is brilliant at devising seductive and appealing products. They're not so good—with or without Steve Jobs—at the follow-through strategies that make them mainstream products.
Jobs is much wiser now than he (or Apple) was in the early days, but the market is much tougher. Apple needs to decide which business it's in and focus sharply. With its incredible name recognition and well-earned reputation for innovative design, it has a place. It just has to decide which place it is.
I don't write fan letters, but after reading your Apple story, I had to congratulate you. Apple made up most of my life for about seven years, when the company was my client at BBDO, and I think you've managed to capture both the facts and the feel of the great Apple tragedy better than anything I've read.
If I have one quibble, it's that you didn't make more of the effects of Apple's relationships with corporate customers. In the late 1980s, there was a significant number of large corporate customers who loved the technology and tried very hard to work with Apple, high prices notwithstanding.
However, they were driven away by the company's utter inability to sustain a consistent business strategy or customer relationship. Like a battered spouse, some of these guys took an enormous amount of abuse before they finally gave up and walked out.
I sometimes think that the only reason artists, writers, and groupie consumers stick with their Macs is that their needs are so simple they don't have to deal with the company on an ongoing basis. It's all so very sad.
Retired advertising executive
San Rafael, California
You suggest that "Apple's dismissal of such . . . pursuits [i.e., management]" is directly related to Apple's failure to capitalize fully on innovation. That is simply misleading and faulty. Apple's management of innovation has kept Apple viable since its inception. It's that simple.
Apple directly serves technology early adopters, influencers, and thought leaders in the creative and educational markets, and it does so without peer. Its brand and user experience are legendary and fundamental. This is no accident. Apple's expertise has been built brick by brick over many generations of innovation and is paid for with the market fruits of prior generations of Apple innovations.
And the innovation never stops. Look at a very time-compressed example, the iPod. Currently, more than 2 million iPods have been sold, and the current 3G iPod is the third generation iPod, with many more generations in the innovation pipeline. This seems like quite capable management of innovation to me.
Los Altos, California
The unspoken assumption in the Apple article is that making loads of money is the ultimate goal of a business venture. Apple is a sustainable, profitable company with loyal customers. Why compare Apple's bottom line with Microsoft's? Microsoft has hordes of customers who are lukewarm about Microsoft products. Apple has far fewer customers, but they fiercely love Apple products. To the engineers at Apple, this is far more rewarding than the bottom line.
Senior support engineer
Cheers for Social Capitalists
Your January issue's spotlight on how "business savvy can change the world" was inspiring ("Social Capitalists"). The articles underline that global corporations have a responsibility to act as good citizens. Beyond just philanthropy, businesses can benefit by engaging in sustainable partnerships that have a positive impact on the social fabric of the communities in which they work. Business has expertise in managing financial capital, tangible capital, and intellectual capital. Why shouldn't corporations also cultivate social capital? I appreciate your recognition of these champions of social capital.
New York, New York
I loved your piece on social capitalism. It encouraged me to take a look at how my organization can make a few small adjustments to make a larger social contribution. It's very encouraging for business leaders to see what is possible on a social level!
Regarding "Social Capitalists," Fast Company has allowed its article and its credibility to be marred. Monitor Group funds a venture philanthropy organization called New Profit Inc., five of whose portfolio groups were selected for the awards. What an amazing coincidence! I expect more from your magazine.
New York, New York
FC responds: Monitor provides office space and consulting to New Profit, which awards funding to new not-for-profit groups. And five of NPI's eight organizations ended up among our winners. We should have disclosed this relationship in our story. However, Monitor and Fast Company recognized and addressed this issue up front. Monitor did not nominate any of the candidate organizations, nor did it participate in interviews with New Profit groups or in the evaluation of those interviews.
Since the late 1990s, when I was studying for a master's in journalism, Fast Company has been a delightful part of my business reading. I'm writing now because I feel even closer to the magazine after seeing what I never expected to find in FC pages: a few inches discussing the relative merits of Charles Tyrwhitt and Thomas Pink shirts ("Thread-Count Wars," January)! Both shirtmakers seem wildly serious about what they do, which I appreciate to no end.
At the Madison Avenue Tyrwhitt store in December, a salesperson said he was preparing for a London trip to visit the firm's home office. He was bright, articulate, and genuinely interested in his company, which elevated my shopping experience.
Sure, one can find shirts at lower prices, but the combination of a quality product and a plugged-in sales assistant make a Tyrwhitt transaction a true value.
Dealer relations manager
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In January's story on Apple, we incorrectly reported that Apple's 0.4% operating profit margin was one-tenth the industry average of 2%. It is actually one-fifth.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.