Not so fast, Carol Bartz

Yahoo CEO mischaracterizes Apple's stock history in WSJ interview

Twenty months into her tenure as Yahoo's CEO, the refreshingly blunt Carol Bartz sat down with the Wall Street Journal to make her case that turnarounds take time, and that's what she needs more of in the face of pressure to increase the Internet pioneer's stock price and improve its competitive footing in an ever-changing online landscape.

"You don't come in and do fairy dust. You upgrade technology, you see what drives engagement," she told the WSJ.

Bartz is 100 percent correct, of course. Fairy dust being in relatively short supply these days, companies competing in the digital landscape need to figure out what their customers want and how to deliver it in a way that generates profits and, hopefully, increases the company's share price. That's no easy task during a recession and in an environment where advertisers are tight with their dollars.

But in making her case, Bartz misstated a bit of history. According to WSJ, Bartz said that "Apple's stock-market capitalization was 'dead ass flat' for a number of years after Steve Jobs returned in 1997."

I was curious about Bartz's colorful assertion and, being into metrics, charts and such, decided to look into it. I discovered two things:

1) It was exactly 13 years ago today that Jobs became "interim CEO" of Apple following the disastrous tenure of Gil Amelio. Happy anniversary, Steve.

2) Bartz was "dead ass wrong" about Apple's market fortunes in the wake of Jobs's return.

Perhaps ironically, I found Apple's historical stock data in Yahoo's excellent finance section. You can view the chart here, but below are some relevant stock prices from that long-ago era.

September 1997: $5.42

December 1997: $3.28

February 1998: $5.90

September 1998: $9.53

May 1999: $11.01

That last price, by the way, was 20 months after Jobs's reinstatement as Apple CEO. Shares climbed as high as $33.95 in March 2000. Then the Internet Gold Rush came to an abrupt halt, and Apple's stock price plummeted along with virtually every other tech company's, falling as low as $7.11 in April 2003. Since then it's been on a remarkable run, even given the economic nosedive that began in 2008. Today Apple is trading at $272.

There's no doubt that Bartz and Yahoo are operating in a much more difficult economic environment than was Apple back in the late '90s, and no reasonable person can expect her to work miracles overnight with a company that had become bloated and lost its competitive sense of direction. And while I wouldn't even compare Yahoo's current situation with Apple's back in 1997, Bartz did. And she got the facts wrong.

No big deal, I know, but public figures often misstate things that then are taken as fact or gospel. Sometimes it's worth checking into them, just to set the record straight.

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