The epilogue also notes that "the dark side of steadfastness is stubbornness -- the leader fastened to a destructive idea long enough to pull the entire company over a cliff," which takes the conversation first to the topic of Dell and then to HP. If von Simson had any particular leaders in mind when he penned those words (and surely he must have) he isn't inclined to a public outing. Asked specifically about Michael Dell and the flagging fortunes of his namesake company, von Simson characterized the CEO as "an enormously capable executive" who faces a daunting rebuilding challenge to contend with a market that is now focused on tablets and smartphones.
"I think it's a huge waste of everybody's time when whoever is managing Dell -- whether it's Michael or anyone else -- has to be restructuring the company," von Simson said. At HP, CEO Meg Whitman has before her a very difficult job in trying to move the company forward while also dealing with the fallout from the disastrous acquisition of Autonomy, which is accused of accounting improprieties that led HP to take an $8.8 billion write-down last year. That write-down tanked HP's share price and led to serious concerns about the future of the company.
"They've got an activist shareholder right now as chairman," von Simon said of Ralph Whitworth, who was named interim chairman on April 4. "I think that could be a lead indicator [for where the company is headed]. I think Meg is trying to maintain the PC business and the printers to some extent as cash cows to move the rest forward. I don't know how plausible that is. I can't tell you how significant a 24 percent drop in PC shipments is to a company that's troubled in the first place," referring to first-quarter numbers from market researcher IDC.
HP, he said, has been mismanaged for the last 15 years, but if anyone has a shot at righting the sinking ship it has become it would be Whitman. "She's very smart, very capable," he said. "Everybody asks, 'can Meg do it?' I hope so -- because HP is an American icon. But if she doesn't succeed, it's not her fault. It's just all this crap going on that has been going on for so long."
He also questions Apple's continued resistance to the enterprise market, entry into which he wrote in the epilogue "is blocked by a now-pervasive cultural aversion cemented by Steve Jobs." That aversion was on display the last time he and Seligman saw Jobs, running into him on the Hawaiian island of Lanai in April 2011. When Jobs said to them during that chance encounter that "some day corporations will buy our products," and Seligman responded that "they already are, and in quantity," Jobs insisted that Apple would "never sell to enterprise CIOs. Anything we do there will be purely opportunistic."
That exchange prompted von Simson to wonder in the epilogue whether Apple will ever "escape its roots and innovate into a new distribution channel."