Excerpts: Michael Spindler’s Apple

  • In the black expanse of the theater in the Las Vegas Aladdin hotel, a single spotlight beats down on Michael H. Spindler, the new CEO of beleaguered Apple Computer Inc.
  • “I could see myself being a grandfather sitting with a grandchild on my lap in a tomato field saying: ‘I didn’t have to be CEO,'” says the 51-year-old executive. Suddenly, his eyes tear up. His voice wavers, and he delivers a last sentence, his fist raised to the roof. “The reason why I made this 15-minute decision is: We can win this!”
  • Here he was, emotionally naked before his troops. Gone, for a moment, as the CEO on a turnaround mission. Revealed was what few Apple employees had ever seen: an elemental passion for Apple, the kind that co-founder Steven P. Jobs always wore on his sleeve—the kind, as Apple veterans wistfully recall that was the very source of the company’s former glory.
  • One answer is Spindler. In his 15-month tenure in the top job, he has used his leadership to get the notoriously scattered Apple culture to focus on goals—and achieve them.
  • “He’s the right man at the right time,” says Apple director Bernard Goldstein. “Michael is a superb hands-on administrator.”
  • Recruited from Intel Corp. in 1980, Spindler rose through various sales jobs to become head of Apple’s European business in 1987. Within two years, he had doubled sales. Brought to Cupertino as chief operating officer in 1990, Spindler quickly masterminded Apple’s first foray into low-cost computers, the Mac Classics.
  • “Mike knows Apple is still vulnerable and not out of the woods,” says public-relations guru Regis McKenna, a friend of Spindler’s and Apple’s original image-maker. “He has come in with the view this is a cold, hard, cruel world, and there are no guarantees.”
  • “With Mike, you get a lot of steak. You’re not getting a lot of sizzle,” says E. Floyd Kvamme, a venture capitalist who was once Spindler’s boss at Apple. “There’s a lot of steak, though.”
  • “With Spindler, it’s like talking with another nerd. He gets it,” says Steve P. Capps, an Apple Fellow, a top engineering designation. “I think we had too much vision with Sculley–all those speeches and trillion-dollar markets.”
  • Throughout Apple, Spindler keeps the focus on the next few critical years, not the distant future. At staff meetings, he can be seen at the whiteboard, scrawling his strategies in step-by-step charts, diagrams, and outlines. “Rembrandts—they’re so well thought out,” says one executive. Spindler’s old nickname, Diesel, has given way to a new one: the Firehose. “It is a workout to be in a meeting with that man,” says Mace. “He goes a mile a minute, and the ideas pour out of him.”
  • He was the first to broach the idea of teaming up with IBM in what became a far-ranging partnership. Says former IBM President Jack Kuehler, who spent months in 1991 negotiating that deal with Spindler: “He can be creative or pragmatic. I don’t think the world has given him that credit.”
  • Just try to pigeonhole Spindler as simply a deft manager, and he erupts: “Meat and potatoes and nuts and bolts. Bull . . . .!” he says, pounding the small, round table in his office. “I am as much of a dreamer as anybody else.”

Source: Bloomberg