by Martin Veitch

BT? Dell? Brocade? Three firms that could do an Apple

May 26, 2010
IT Strategy

So Apple is (looks at watch) a bigger company than Microsoft in terms of that reliable, never-manipulated indicator of market capitalisation. It’s been a wild ride indeed since the day in 1997 when then-interim boss Steve Jobs took a $150m investment from Microsoft in a move that then Apple CFO Fred Anderson said “strengthens Apple’s viability” although at the time others saw it as a down-payment for a bail-out or act of charity.

Since then, Apple hasn’t looked back and has written perhaps the greatest turnaround story in modern corporate history. Some might quibble with marking up Apple over a Microsoft that still brings in great waves of consistent profits but there’s no doubt that Jobs has helped build a stunning revival led by tremendous design and brand building on an epic scale. F. Scott Fitzgerald was very surely talking through his Homburg when he said that “there are no second acts in American lives” — but then he had never met The Great Jobsy.

Of course, Apple is not the only company to have turned the corner. Think of brands like Guinness, Tesco, RyanAir and (before its recent spill, at least) BP. Here are three more technology firms that could do an Apple:

BT. Regarded by many as somewhat dusty, BT is attempting to pull off a conversion from fixed-line dependency to managed services, software and IP ICT all-rounder. It’s a big ask but then Lou Gerstner’s IBM did something similar on an even bigger scale. BT has an unparalleled connection with British business and in Ribbit it may have pulled off one of the smartest acquisitions in communications.

Dell.After years of being the darling of stock buyers Dell has come to earth with a bump and founder Michael Dell’s famously wrong advice that Apple should shut up shop and return money to investors looks a bit shrill. But the boss is back in charge and the old beige and boxy Dell has been reinvented as a designer of beautiful products, provider of smart services and new media maven. Add that to the old supply-chain excellence and the recipe for a revival is complete. The only question remains: will the cake rise?

Brocade. The company rose to prominence as a maker of picks and shovels for the internetworking gold rush and hit its nadir with the stock options disgrace of its CEO. Recently its shares have been marked down but acquisitions and partnerships, a sunnier economic outlook, the rise of mega-datacentres and the opportunity to address a globalising market provides a sketched outline for a return to glory.