November 9, 1994: Gil Amelio, a businessman with a reputation as a talented turnaround artist, joins Apple’s board.
Coming off his impressive revitalization of National Semiconductor and Rockwell International, Amelio’s appointment at Apple sparks widespread celebration. Many Apple watchers think his arrival means the company’s dark days are over.
Sadly, Amelio’s turnaround tricks won’t work in Cupertino.
There was no shortage of innovation at Apple during the “bad old days” of the early 1990s. But the company desperately needed good leadership. It lacked the ability to not just create fantastic new products, but to pick the right fantastic new products to create.
Gil Amelio: Turnaround artist?
This is where Amelio impressed. As National Semiconductor’s CEO, he returned a company that lost $320 million over four years to profitability.
Unlike operations-led CEOs (John Sculley and Tim Cook spring to mind), Amelio possessed a strong engineering background. While a Ph.D. student, he helped invent the charge-coupled device, or CCD, which formed the basis for future scanners and digital cameras.
Amelio’s connection to Cupertino resulted from National Semiconductor’s role as a big Apple supplier. Amelio continued at National Semiconductor until he assumed Apple’s CEO role in 1996. But it was not considered a conflict of interest for him to be on Apple’s board while simultaneously heading a company that did business with Apple.
The most memorable thing from Amelio’s eventual 500-day stint running Apple as CEO — aside from overseeing Apple’s biggest-ever losses — was the fact that Apple bought NeXT while under his leadership. That ultimately brought back Steve Jobs to steer the ship.
Oh, and possibly Amelio’s infamous nautical-themed blooper, as related by Jobs below. Amelio supposedly compared Apple to a ship with a gaping hole in its hull, then said his job was to ensure it sailed in the right direction.