Oracle CEO Larry Ellison in an interview on CBS yesterday praised Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, calling him "our Edison," and argued that without him, Apple would lose its status as a technology leader.
"He was brilliant," said Ellison of Jobs, who died Oct. 5, 2011, after a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer. "I mean, he was our [Thomas] Edison. He was our [Pablo] Picasso. He was an incredible inventor."
But when Charlie Rose of CBS This Morning asked Ellison, "So what happens to Apple without Steve?" Ellison made it clear he doesn't think the Cupertino, Calif. company is the same without Jobs.
"Well, we already know," Ellison said. "We saw ... we conducted the experiment. I mean, it's been done. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs," said Ellison while tracing an upward climb with his hand. "We saw Apple without Steve Jobs," he continued, moving his hand downward, referring to the iconic leader's ouster from Apple in 1985. "We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. Now, we're gonna see Apple without Steve Jobs."
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison
During the last two sentences, Ellison moved his hand upward, then downward, signaling that he thought Apple's fortunes without Jobs would be a history repeat of the years when the company languished -- it almost went under -- between the iconic leader's departure and return in 1997.
In August of that year, shortly after Jobs was named interim CEO, he stood on stage at the Macworld conference to announce that long-time rival Microsoft had bought $150 million in Apple stock to help keep it afloat. Years later, Jobs said in an interview that Apple had been within 90 days of filing bankruptcy during those times.
Ellison, while typically blunt, is not the first to question Apple's future sans Jobs.
Analysts wondered the same at Jobs' passing nearly two years ago, and had been pondering it long before then, when Jobs was frequently not at the helm because of his health.
Most believed that Apple would do fine in the short run, if only because Jobs would have had a hand in products already in the pipeline. But they worried about the long-term future of the firm without its greatest showman, even as they struggled to put their fingers on any one example.
"[Apple's] different, but whether that comes from the fact that Jobs is not there, or a combination of Jobs' [absence] and the world being a different world today, I don't know," said Carolina Milanesi, a research analyst and vice president with Gartner, in an interview in October 2012, a year after Jobs' death.
Apple's share price early Tuesday was $473, down 33% from a record $702 in September 2012, but 27% higher than the day before Jobs died.
Yet questions have continued about Apple's ability to innovate in its post-Jobs world. In April, a former Apple executive said the company had "lost control of the narrative ... [and] let others define its story."
Experts agreed, pointing out that the Apple "mystique," which has been largely attributed as well as tied to Jobs, had dissipated, and that Apple was no longer the king of cool.
Phillip Schiller, head of Apple's marketing, took on those critics in June at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), when he said, "Can't innovate anymore, my ass," as he introduced a radically-redesigned Mac Pro.
A short clip of Ellison's comments about Apple is available on the CBS website.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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