Apple stock: No more Mr. Personality

Apple [AAPL] Steve Jobs had the capacity to steer innovation to where the puck was going, rock star charisma and Broadway-standard showmanship, but he's gone. Anger at his passing became anger at the company, but Apple's about to change its story -- and its identity.


Seven stage story

It's a grief thing, all about those seven stages: these begin with shock and denial and them move into guilt, anger, depression and loneliness. These are difficult emotions.

Somewhere along the way those who grieve become a little stronger. That's when they begin a phase of reconstruction while working through the feelings of loss. This process continues for an indeterminate time until those positive efforts eventually move a person into feelings of acceptance and hope. These are the seven stages most of us must endure when we lose a loved one -- and a lot of people loved Steve Jobs. Even his enemies felt something for the man. He was extraordinary.

Apple has been quiet for a while, engaged in self-reflection, casting a lonely shadow while every narcissistic critic throws rocks in its general direction. During this time the secretive, private while public, controversial and huge company became an easy target.

Investors also felt the loss. Jobs was the visionary; his life and death had become so entwined in the Apple story that his company became synonymous with his personality. His old friend, Oracle's Larry Ellison, can't seem to see an upside for post-PC, post-Jobs Apple. We've also been told of dissent among company directors while analysts continue to question the future fate of the firm.

The thing is, it's not just about the company. The subtext to the debate is also about the loss of Steve Jobs. It has taken a while for the investment community to make it through some of those seven stages, but now they look to the company to redefine its value after his passing -- even if they do so subconsciously.

Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues (1965)

There's plenty of upside

After all, if we're realistic there's appears to be plenty of upside potential.   The company is about to begin a new major product cycle with new iPhones, services, iPads, Macs, Apple TV improvements and new breeds of wearable connected device with which it hopes to entice us.

Quarter-by-quarter its results may be flat, but then look at others in the consumer electronics space: Apple's not unique in such results. There's an economic pinch and we're all feeling it -- it's a wonder Apple isn't feeling it more, given the dearth of exciting new products in recent months.

And then there's Tim Cook. Apple's current CEO comes in for a huge amount of attention as the critics attempt to define all the reasons Cook is no Steve Jobs. They are right, of course, he's not Steve Jobs, he's Tim Cook, and has his own strengths to bring to this game.

You see, what's been happening across the last few months is a time of transformation across the Apple cult (which of course also includes its critics -- they suck on the same Kool-Aid while they attempt to feed their poison pens). While the innovative company was previously seen through the filter of its popular and charismatic leader, today's Apple is a different entity -- it's a company.

This changing identity hasn't yet generated a globally respected evangelist to replace Jobs. How could it? This means that for Apple today there's no preacher in the pulpit; no prophet on the corner, no new Bob Dylan holding up the sign of these new times.

The cult of personality is transforming. The company -- always represented by its products -- has lost the wise man who somehow explained them all to us. In his life analyst's estimated that Jobs' very existence contributed up to 25 percent of Apple's stock value.

Impossible shoes

We went through a period of denial after his passing. Investors clung to the dream as they faced the new reality, asking themselves, "How much is Apple worth without the leader?"

Tim Cook's critics are attempting to answer the same question -- but they should stop to consider this: Jobs didn't leave Apple twice, he left four times: once when he was sacked, once when he passed on, and two more times when he was ill. Tim Cook handled business in those two absences, presiding over a period during which Apple grew far faster than it was expected to.

I'm beginning to think the criticism of Apple's existing leadership is just another step along these stages of grief. The current stock volatility is not reflective of the value of the firm or of its future products, but of the loss of its former leader. Yes, there's been a time delay to this impact, but that's how grieving works. It takes time.

The truth is there's a lot of value still locked inside Apple. That's certainly what billionaire investor, Carl Icahn believes (he's got over a billion dollars invested in the firm). "We currently have a large position in Apple. We believe the company to be extremely undervalued. Spoke to Tim Cook today. More to come," he wrote on Twitter yesterday.

Apple has lost its leader and its stock price is beginning to fully account for that loss. Tim Cook's critics aren't criticising him for what he is capable of, but for the simple sin of not being Steve Jobs. In their way they too are grieving. In their way they still want the Kool-Aid.

The new Apple

Apple's new identity will begin to emerge in the next few weeks, led by new products developed (I imagine) with all the love and care for the memory of the company founder its people have been able to muster. Products clearly developed under the close supervision of one of Jobs' best friends, Jony Ive. Himself a man who commands the equivalent level of evangelical respect as the more demagogic Jobs, though one who casts a different kind of magic: in Ive's life, it really is the products that do the talking.

Apple's post-Jobs stock revaluation should by now be complete. The loss of the leader has been factored in.

There are only a few more weeks in which the peddlers of fear, uncertainty and doubt can cast stones, because Apple's fight back has begun. Added to this, the company now knows those it can truly trust. The story has changed. Apple is no longer about a singular personality, but about people.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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