ADAGE.COM SPECIAL: Amelio at Apple--Bringing discipline to marketing

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Apple Computer's new reported CEO could not be farther from a consumer marketer. But for a company with a great brand, exceptional customer loyalty but foundering management, he brings the discipline and focus the company needs.

Gil Amelio resigned Feb. 2 as chairman-CEO of National Semiconductor amid reports he is replacing Michael Spindler as Apple's chief executive. Apple didn't comment as of news deadline Feb. 2.

Mr. Amelio, 52, who has a doctorate in physics from Georgia Institute of Technology, has spent 25 years in management at computer chip companies and holds 16 patents. He joined ailing National Semi in 1991 and directed a turnaround--he prefers "transformation"--that he documents in a new book, "Profit From Experience" (Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996).

The book, destined to be must-reading for executives at Apple Computer and Apple's agency, BBDO West, Los Angeles, shows what makes Mr. Amelio tick: "vision," team playing, delegation and management philosophies ranging from employee empowerment to "operational excellence" and "customer delight."

Marketing is barely mentioned in Mr. Amelio's "Story of Transformation Management." Communications--particularly the importance of open employee communications--gets more attention.

The lack of discussion of advertising and broader marketing communications in part probably reflects that National Semi is a business-to-business marketer. But in contrast to one-time Apple CEO John Sculley, who brought a management philosophy from Pepsi-Cola Co. where marketing was central, Mr. Amelio almost seems the marketing equivalent of the Uncola.

In contrast to Mr. Sculley, who hired BBDO, and Mr. Spindler, a one-time chip executive himself who had long ties to BBDO before becoming CEO, Mr. Amelio does not seem the sort to get deeply involved in advertising.

Mr. Amelio's book does suggest some strong management philosophies likely to influence what he does to fix Apple.

For one, he writes that he strongly opposes the now-standard management practice of massive layoffs.

"Layoffs are a sign of management failure," he said. He added: "A company in trouble faces the same problem as an overweight person: a crash diet may get the weight off, but he may not be healthy afterward."

This philosophy should come as good news to the demoralized ranks at Apple. It's conceivable, though, he could still make dramatic cuts at Apple, whose staffing ranks are considered high, and blame the move on previous management.

But in joining an organization, Mr. Amelio adamantly believes in giving managers the benefit of the doubt. At troubled companies, he explains, the problem generally is a lack of "vision" rather than incompetent people.

"As a rule of thumb, you can assume that 80 to 90 percent of your people are competent and well-intentioned," he wrote.

But Apple executives had better be prepared to be re-educated. Mr. Amelio invests heavily in employee communications and training to make sure employees get the program. National Semi, he noted, invested $10 million in a new "change-enhancing" program early this decade even as it was losing money.

Mr. Amelio wrote that he prefers to bring along only a few trusted associates when he joins a company. At National Semi, only two of the top executives he inherited on arrival have left. But he proudly notes how he has shuffled most of the managers, putting them in jobs where he felt their skills could be better used. He also freely brings in consultants to get an outside point-of-view.

Mr. Amelio also makes it clear he can be calculated and tough. He professes to used "precise and carefully calculated" anger at times to get his way. And he also explains he has no problem killing projects that aren't going to pay off. Apple now is scattered in many directions, suggesting Mr. Amelio could look for the kill switch on some of Apple's attempts to diversify beyond its core Macintosh computer franchise.

Copyright February 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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