With Steve Jobs’s news that he’s stepping down as Apple CEO, we have seen a flood of articles that read very much like obituaries: praise to the skies, lists of Apple Corp.’s grandiose accomplishments, comparing Jobs to Edison and Henry Ford.
It’s as if they came to bury Caesar and ended up praising him. This began even before Jobs’s announcement. GM’s marketing chief Joel Ewanick pronounced at the company’s Global Busness Conference:
Our direct competitors are Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Ford; however in the eyes of consumers, it’s time for Chevrolet to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to the world’s true global brands like Apple.
By which Ewanick presumed to explain, “We’re going to become one of the most consumer-centric brands in the world.”
Joel got rightly chewed out by some for these dumb remarks, and it would have been smart for GM to issue some kind of retraction or follow-on explanation.
1. Apple started as a computer business; it’s now a media business. It differentiated itself from the competition by developing products created through Steve Jobs’s intense personal vision that made people salivate. Joel Ewanick (right) may want to develop this kind of consumer response, but General Motors still makes and will continue to make commodity products. Few people salivate over the Malibu.
2. Apple is about control—from Jobs’s vision through manufacturing on down through licensing and distribution. An Apple store is about as different from a Chevy store as you can imagine. Car dealers are independent people, and they are selling a range of products that has to appeal to widely diverse buyers.
3. Jobs is and has been a bully and a despot in his business, always pushing for super-high markups and accumulating enormous piles of cash. He is also a fabulous marketer (iPod, etc.), business-buyer (Pixar) and media revolutionary (transforming the music business with iTunes). Apple’s success is owing to his uncanny ability to capitalize on these things.
The car biz and GM could no more reproduce Apple’s success than Hewlett-Packard could. When Ewanick was at Hyundai, they put the Equus owner’s manual on an iPad (photo at top of story). This was touted as a genius idea but has since been replaced by a paper version.
The guy must still have Apple fantasies.
Detroit is not Silicon Valley, and the road ahead for GM and Chevrolet will not depend on how well it emulates Apple. It will depend on fresh thinking about new products in a transforming global marketplace.
Was Joel Ewanick’s Apple comment justified? Should GM’s culture become like Apple’s?