On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple


On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple is Gil Amelio's recollection of what happened, told from his unique perspective as the occupant of Apple's hot seat. This is the revealing story of how a proven high-technology turnaround artist took on the biggest challenge of his career — and perhaps his life. Nothing could have prepared Amelio for the chaos that greeted him when he took over as CEO. First there was the reversal he suffered at the hands of the in-house legal staff from day one that rendered his highly ...
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On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple is Gil Amelio's recollection of what happened, told from his unique perspective as the occupant of Apple's hot seat. This is the revealing story of how a proven high-technology turnaround artist took on the biggest challenge of his career — and perhaps his life. Nothing could have prepared Amelio for the chaos that greeted him when he took over as CEO. First there was the reversal he suffered at the hands of the in-house legal staff from day one that rendered his highly touted compensation package a sham. Then, rapidly, came the spiraling maelstrom of problems — financial, organizational, and creative — that threatened daily to sweep him and Apple into oblivion. Amelio quickly uncovered the truth that the company was hemorrhaging both dollars and talent. He immediately plunged into a multifaceted rescue effort that included an extensive fund-raising campaign to solve Apple's cashflow problem and fevered negotiations for a new Macintosh operating system with luminaries such as Jean-Louis Gassee, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. In his own words, Amelio exposes a company that continually undermines its own best efforts, with financial officers using out-of-date systems that take weeks to process the most elementary data and sales executives being accused of "channel stuffing" — strong-arming retailers to buy computers they didn't need in order to make the company's quarterly sales look better.
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Editorial Reviews

A corporate kiss-and-tell by former Apple CEO, Gil Amelio, whose admirable business and engineering accomplishments give credence to his account of a company so self-adulating that it could not acknowledge its own marketing and management failures.
Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781900961981
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/30/1998
  • Pages: 309

Meet the Author

William L. Simon is a bestselling author, Global business Book Award nominee, and winner of more than a dozen festival awards for his film and television writer. He lives in Rancho Santa Fe, California, with his wife, Arynne.

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Read an Excerpt

"What would you think about becoming a member of the Apple board?" The words resonated. I thought, Yes, I'd be right for Apple!

The caller was an old friend, but this wasn't social. Strictly business. Tom Friel, a headhunter at Heidrich & Struggles who had been hired to search for another Apple board member, remembered that a few conversations ago I'd shown an interest in taking on one additional board assignment.

Apple seemed a natural, considering my background as a Ph.D. technologist with a number of patents and my reputation as a business leader who had established a notable record for transforming ailing companies. Tom also knew I'd been a Macintosh fan for years, and was used to hearing me rave over the virtues of the Mac.

And Apple as a company holds an extraordinary fascination, virtually achieving the status of a celebrity in its own right. Luc Hatlestad described it in the pages of Red Herring magazine as having "a unique power to inspire emotions. . . . It's difficult to imagine any other high-tech company inspiring such heartfelt devotion."

That winter's day in early 1994 when Tom called was at a time when I had brought National Semiconductor from the brink of disaster to showing higher profits than ever. The company had by then progressed to what I call Phase Two of transformation—the less frenetic process of building from strength toward the goal of becoming great.

So my answer was easy. "But Apple's board needs to know that National is an important supplier of theirs. We sell them $25 or $30 million worth of chips a year. They need to be sure that's not going to be a conflict of interest."

Some people claim they can accept rejection easily; I thinkthey're just better actors. Nobody likes to be turned down for something they want. It was uncomfortable when you were in junior high, it's still uncomfortable when you're a CEO. So when early winter turned to late spring and still no word from Tom or Apple, I began to wonder.

Then, in June, I was scheduled to cohost the annual dinner for the Silicon Valley chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. This is an organization I've belonged to and supported for a number of years because of its dedication to principles of tolerance and acceptance, standing for values and the kind of follow-through that is fundamental to improving the human condition.

The other cohost that evening was an authentic Silicon Valley legend, A. C. "Mike" Markkula, Jr. As all Apple and high-tech followers know, Mike originally put up the money that launched Apple Computer. He had made a bundle from Intel when the semiconductor industry was still in its infancy and, recognizing the potential, had bankrolled the two Steves with $91,000 out of his own pocket, and arranged and guaranteed a $250,000 line of credit from the Bank of America. As a member of Apple's board since its beginning, Mike had also served as board chairman through most of the company's history. To say he was both powerful and influential is as obvious as saying that Rose Kennedy owned black dresses.

Mike and I were only slightly more than nodding acquaintances. For years our paths had crossed socially, and we seemed interested and involved in some of the same community organizations. I sensed a mutual respect and admiration, so sought out the opportunity at the NCCJ affair to bring up the board position.

Mike looked surprised. "We thought you weren't interested," Mike said, genuinely surprised to find out that I was. It was like the old children's game of Telephone, where a message gets whispered along the line and ends up completely different. Here we were at the highest corporate levels, going through only two or three people, and the message arrived as garbled as at any party of ten-year-olds.

This time Mike carried my message of interest back to Apple's board and got the wheels turning. On my next trip to New York, I was invited to dinner by the two people who formed the board's recruiting committee. We met at a private club, a vestige of an 1800s lifestyle, hidden from most people's eyes—including mine, until that night. An aura of old wealth and unspoken power hangs in the air, accentuated by the dark, highly-polished woods, subdued voices, and the sense that any secret spoken here is entirely safe.

Not that we had any secrets to share. At least not yet. I hadn't known quite what to expect, but this was not an examination of my ideas or even my style. This was not a "What do you think Apple should do now?" session but a getting-to-know-you opportunity, a chance to form an opinion of each other. They wondered if I would fit in with the board so that we could work amicably and productively together; I wanted to see if they could listen to me and to each other with respect and patience.

Frankly, I found both men impressive. Bernie Goldstein, a venture capitalist from Broadview Associates, is a true gentleman—caring and sensitive with a forthright way of getting close without your being aware of what he's doing. As I was to discover, he also has the backbone to become very tough when someone wants to spend company money. Peter Crisp, also a venture capitalist, is a founder and a managing partner at VenRock, a firm that invests Rockefeller money. Soft-spoken and charming, with flawless diction and the wiry build of a long-distance runner, he has an eternal twinkle in the eye that conveys the feeling you're with someone special. Peter had already made up his mind to leave the board on reaching his fifteenth anniversary of membership, then just a few months away, and was eager to find a strong candidate who could join before his time to leave.

At the end of that first meeting I felt not so much interviewed as agreeably entertained. When we parted, Peter and Bernie assured me I would be hearing further—and soon.

I called my wife, Charlene, at the end of the evening to share my impressions. Astute as always, she commented, "Something tells me it's going to take a lot more of your time than you think. Are you sure you want this?" Later I would light on this question as prophetic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2000

    A very interesting story

    a very interesting book. The other side to the story of what happened at Apple before Steve Jobs took over. You cannot but help feeling sorry for Gil Amelio. I feel that, especially after reading this book, he was indeed a 'round peg in a square hole'. While he was well qualified for a CEO position, a CEO job at Apple is something rather different. The book clearly shows that he lacked the charismatic leadership style that Apple so badly needed. His business style, corporate cultural background, and attitude were not in line with Apple's - hence his deposition. All together an interesting read (if you are interested in Apple).

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