Sunday, May 19, 2013

Apple needs to grow a parent company

Apple has a branding problem. No, there's nothing wrong with the brand "Apple" as currently used. The problem is that it isn't pliable enough to encompass new businesses the company might want to get into. To solve this, Apple needs to become the wholly owned subsidiary of its own parent company, which would initially be nothing more than a shell for the company as it currently exists, but that would change as new businesses were added.

Call it Pome, if you like, or Rose, both of which are generalizations of "apple" in botanical terminology, or find some other name that projects Apple's approach to business without its product category limitations, and, to give it an immediate reason for being, move Filemaker out from under Apple, giving it sister company status.

A rule of thumb might be that any operation with something to sell independent of the Apple product supply chain should be moved in this manner. This might include Apple's IC design operations, if, for example, they were to decide to sell older designs into the microcontroller market. It would also facilitate the acquisition of companies with existing businesses representing more than a small fraction of their value, businesses that didn't fit Apple but which it wouldn't make good economic sense to shut down, while easing the problems associated with being assimilated into Apple's corporate culture – specifically including the dissatisfaction experienced by ambitious key personnel, resulting from the transition from having creative control to working in service of some personally less-compelling purpose.

It would also provide a framework for spinoffs, businesses based on technologies developed internally, with greater potential than could be realized within the context of the role they might play in Apple's product line, and which, in some cases, would need a degree of independence in order to provide Apple with the greatest benefit, for example proposed industry-standard technologies.

The logistics of such a change are conceptually rather simple, although I have no doubt the details would be anything but. Convert all of Apple's current stock to stock in the new parent company, convert the Board of Directors to being the board of the new parent company, and allow Tim Cook to serve as CEO of both Apple and the parent company, at least to start with. This would require approval by the shareholders and from the SEC, no doubt, but being a value-neutral change intended to reposition the company for further growth, neither should be a problem.

Given this new arrangement, the board might find that it has better things to do with the company's liquid assets than to buy back stock.

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