Last month, US tech giant Apple announced a net profit of $18b for the first quarter, the most ever made by a public company over that period of time. The iPhone, Apple’s flagship product, has been a driving factor in generating sales, with a staggering 74.5m devices shifted (despite being a pretty pricey device!). So I ask: is Apple the most successful company ever?
Most valuable ever
The most obvious way to measure Apple’s success is to look at numbers. According to Forbes, Apple is by far the world’s most valuable company, at an estimated $124 billion. That’s far ahead of other tech giants Microsoft ($63 bn) and Google ($56 bn), as well as other household names like Coke and McDonalds.
In that sense, there’s no doubt Apple is the most valuable company in the world today, and due to inflation the most highly valued of all time too. But does this really answer the question, and is it sufficient to crown Apple the most successful company of all time?
Another way of assessing Apple’s success is the perhaps unequaled brand love and aura its products enjoy. Of course, that’s not exactly measurable: not only is love tricky to compare with other brands today, it’s literally impossible to scrutinize against other companies of past eras.
Having said that, the crazy ritual scenes of new iPhone releases at famous Apple stores around the world serve as a reminder that at times, Apple is more like a religion than a tech manufacturer. Likewise, the terminology Apple fans often use to discuss their products is closer to that describing works of art than platforms on which to play Angry Birds (whoever called their Gameboy ‘beautiful’?).
Of course, that’s all very much dependent on how you define brand love. In terms of longevity, Apple still falls far behind other well known names. Founded in 1976, Apple is yet to celebrate its 40th birthday.
By contrast, a brand like Grolsch (the Netherlands’ second largest beer brewer) has been around since 1615, and there are plenty of Japanese companies whose origins can be traced over a thousand years ago too (I can’t be arsed to list them, but do look them up, there really are lots!)
Even in the UK, brands like Lloyd’s have been operating since 1688. While it might not be your cup of tea, Twinings tea has also been operating since 1706 (sorry, had to).
Although numbers might seem an objective, measurable way of scaling success, claims about Apple’s record breaking just-about-anything fail to take into account inflation. Hence, there’s an argument that in today’s money, IBM was actually worth almost twice as much in 1967.
78 million Dutch Guilders
Going back much further, it’s tricky to assess how much the Dutch East India Company would be worth today. Less famous in popular culture than its British counterpart,the Dutch EIC was worth an estimated 78 million Dutch Guilders. Not helpful, I know. In today’s language though, this would be about $7.4 trillion (!). In fact, the company was so successful it paid shareholders an incredible 18% annual dividend for over 200 years! Crazy.
Looking at the British EIC company now, one might also argue that Apple will certainly never reach the level of global influence a company like the EIC enjoyed at its peak. Whilst Steve Job’s baby is admittedly a (very very) successful manufacturer, for over 100 years the EIC held very real political power, bossing around princes and maharajahs across the whole of India while ruling over millions.
It run national administration and, using its own private army, was able to wage war to protect its interests. In that sense, the EIC is a unique entity in socioeconomic history- and that’s probably for the best.
Apple is the biggest company in the world today. But it’s also a young company, yet to demonstrate its ability to remain a big player in the long run. Most importantly, I don’t think it’s comparable to the two giants which were the Dutch and English EICs.
But hey, that’s just my opinion. What do you think makes a great company? And do you think Apple is the most successful company ever?