Sixteen years ago Wednesday, Apple issued a press release announcing that it had finalized the acquisition of NeXT Software Inc with the intention of using the small company's operating system as a replacement for its own aging Mac OS 9. No one could have predicted the long-term impact such a short-term business decision would have, or how it would change the way we live our lives.
The reason why the decision was to prove so monumental is because as part of the deal, NeXT's founder, a certain Mr. Steve Jobs, returned to the company he had co-founded -- and from which he had been unceremoniously shown the door in 1985 -- to "serve as an advisor to Dr. Gilbert F. Amelio, Apple's Chairman and CEO."
Of the deal, Dr. Amelio, the third CEO since Jobs' departure, said at the time: "We embark upon Apple's third decade with renewed enthusiasm, and we look forward to working with our developers, customers, and industry colleagues to proliferate Apple's legacy of vision and technological excellence."
By July of 1997, Jobs had moved from advisor to interim CEO after Amelio was forced off the board due to presiding over three years of record-low share prices and the greatest turnaround in US corporate history began. Some experts believe by the end of 1997, the company was literally days from going bankrupt. When asked what he'd do with Apple if he were in Jobs' shoes Dell CEO, Michael Dell famously said:"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders."
This stinging attack upset many at Apple and Jobs immediately called a Town Hall meeting where he equally famously said "F*** Michael Dell!" before swallowing his pride, discontinuing half of the company's product line, and borrowing $100 million from arch enemy Microsoft. Twelve months later in August 1998 Apple introduced a new, all-in-one desktop computer called the iMac.
This was followed by an all-new operating system, OSX, the iPod and iTunes in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010.
In hindsight, the acquisition, which at the time was a last desperate attempt to build an operating system that could keep up with the growing ubiquity of Windows in terms of look and feel, now seems like one of the greatest business decisions in history. If the deal hadn't happened, would smartphones have touch screens? Would the tablet be crushing the PC market? It's also interesting to note that 16 years later, a certain Michael Dell has been forced to borrow $2 billion from Microsoft, return money to his shareholders and take his own company, Dell Inc, off the stock market. Jobs is probably smiling.