Another Christmas Carol
One of my favorite holiday movies, Scrooged, stars Bill Murray as a heartless
media tycoon in the only successful effort to bring Dickens' A Christmas Carol
into modern times. It was with Murray's irreverent portrayal of the Scrooge-like
executive in mind that I started work on another Christmas Carol remake, this
one starring Apple CEO Michael Spindler. More than just ample proof that what I
really need to get for Christmas is a life, it seemed like a fun way to start a
new column and end an old year.
Act One, Scene One. Interior, a large but spartan office. We see a lone man in
a grey suit typing on a keyboard. A single document is open on the screen,
titled "1996 Workforce Reduction Plan--Apple Confidential." The camera zooms in
on the upper right of the screen just as the clock there turns to 12:00 a.m.,
Dec. 25, 1995.
Disembodied Voice (in a whisper): Ssssspppinnndlller!
Executive continues typing.
Disembodied Voice (louder this time): Spindler!
Spindler (with heavy German accent): Yes?
Long pause, then suddenly the office door flies open. Standing there is a
tall man with a pale, cadaverous face. Tied to his body is a menagerie of
strange-looking devices--black CD ROM drives, handheld media players, and
a bandolier made of original Newton MessagePads.
Sculley: In life at Apple I was your boss, John Sculley.
Spindler (chuckling): I see the East Coast doesn't agree with you.
Sculley (floating over to stand in front of Spindler's desk): Very funny.
Listen, Michael, I'm here to help you avoid my fate. (Shakes gadgets,
which reward him with a cacophony of beeps, bings, and digital voices.)
Spindler: But, I don't understand, what's all that stuff?
Sculley: These are the icons of my hubris at Apple. Your burden almost
outweighs mine already, and you've got some real doozies coming up next
year. How would you like to spend eternity dragging several AIX servers
Spindler (turning pale): You wouldn't do that to me, would you?
Sculley: It's not up to me. Your chain is being forged by a higher force,
Spindler (swallowing hard): Please, John, what can I do?
Sculley: You will be visited by three more ghosts. They'll show you the way.
(Sculley begins to fade.) I must go, QuickTime Conferencing is losing
bandwidth on the Internet. Heed well their words, unless you want to suffer
Brave Old World
Act Two, Scene One. Spindler is leaning back in his chair, asleep. A moment
passes, then he wakes with a start.
Spindler: Huh, What? (Looks around.) John? (Another pause.) Oh, this is
nonsense. Too much work, too many late nights.
Jobs (from behind Spindler): Funny, I never felt that way when I was
sitting in that chair.
Spindler (spinning around): Steven? How did you get in here?
Jobs: Hey, I built this place. Why shouldn't I be able to get in? (Jobs
smiles, his mouth full of perfect, white teeth. A small "tm" floats in the air,
near his lips, then vanishes in a puff of smoke.)
Spindler: So, I suppose you're here to teach me something, then?
Jobs: Yes. Here, grab my coattails.
As Spindler touches the cloth, the office fades in a haze of black and white
pixels. As the scene reforms, he finds himself in a large, open office filled
with desks, old-style Macs, and programmers typing away.
Jobs: Look familiar?
Spindler: Actually, no.
Jobs: I'm not surprised. This is what an office full of happy, productive
workers looks like. This was my Apple.
Spindler: Yeah, sure. They could afford to be happy, considering how much you
were overpaying them and how many lies you deluded them with. I still
carry the weight of your "legacy" on my back!
Jobs: What's a good idea worth?
Jobs: How much would you pay for an idea that changes the world? Sure, I lied
about what our goals were. Yes, I infected them with my arrogance. But, if I
had told them the truth, about margins and overhead, do you think they would have been any more inspired to create great things? What have your employees been inspired to do lately, besides leave the company?
Spindler: (Pause.) Well, lots of things.
Jobs: Name one.
Spindler: OK, the anti-Windows campaign!
Jobs: That was good. Didn't you "restructure" the group responsible for that
out of existence?
Spindler: Well . . .
Jobs: You can't run a company like Apple without inspiration. Without it, people
won't be motivated to come up with the ideas that will keep you ahead of the
Jobs: No, Gates. Listen, think it over. Meanwhile, I had something I wanted to
Jobs: So, are you really serious about cloning? And, if so, what will it take
for me to get a license for NeXT?
Scene fades to black as Spindler puts his hands to his face and sobs loudly.
Culture of Denial
Act Three, Scene One. Spindler removes his hands and before him is Bill
Spindler: What? How?
Gates: You'd be surprised how often I hear that. Okay, listen, I don't have a
lot of time. Got to get back to the book tour, you know. So, I'm going to make
Spindler (stands up): Make what quick?
Gates: You know, show you the error of your ways. But, come on! I've got a
breakfast meeting in Redmond in four hours. (Gates grabs Spindler's hand and
drags him toward an open Window.)
Spindler: But, hey, wait! We're on the fourth flo . . .
Spinder's last words are cut off as they leap out the window, suddenly
Gates: Don't worry. I do this all the time. So, you see that cluster of
Gates: That's the Apple campus. And, do you see everything else, stretching
out to the horizon?
Gates: That's the rest of the world. The more time you and your managers spend at Apple, that's less time they spend in the real world, with your customers.
Spindler (sputtering): But, we spend a lot of time with our customers! We do
studies, we do surveys, customers are involved in every step of our planning.
Gates: Then, how could you know so little about how they feel? Here, let me
Gates and Spindler plummet. Seconds before impact, they stop and float gently
to the ground.
Spindler: How'd you do that?
Gates: You think that's impressive, you should see me walk on water.
Spindler looks around and notices that they have landed in a sushi bar in
front of a table where four people are having a lively conversation.
IS Manager: . . . and then the whole thing failed, right in front of my boss.
Consultant: Really? What'd he say?
IS Manager: Nothing. But, man, the look he gave me.
2nd Manager: I know what you mean. My boss doesn't even bother to comment on our
Mac installation anymore. It's like the whole thing is already gone.
2nd Consultant (looking at plate): What did you say this is?
Consultant (laughing): This is the last time I take someone from Ohio out for
sushi. Just eat it, okay?
IS Manager: You know what the real problem is? No one from Apple ever comes by,
even when we ask them to. It's hard for me to get my boss to take the platform
seriously when our Apple rep doesn't return phone calls. (All four nod their heads in silent agreement.)
Gates's Rolex starts playing "Start Me Up." He looks down at it, pressing a
button to make the music stop.
Gates: Listen, I've got to go. You'll be alright getting back, won't you? (Starts walking out of the restaurant; stops.) Oh, yes, and don't forget this valuable lesson.
Spindler: (Still stunned by what he's heard) Why are you doing this?
Gates: Hey, I love the Mac, remember?
When I got up to Act Four, all I could thing of was a black-robed specter, who in the end pulls back his hood to reveal Andy Grove's face. But, hey, that would have been just a little too obvious.
Of course, this was all in good fun. My point, however, is not. On the eve of
another layoff at Apple, I'm concerned that the company's executives may not have their priorities straight. In making such serious decisions, Apple needs to keep the welfare of its employees and the best interests of its customers foremost in any plan. Trying to make Wall Street happy by cutting bodies isn't just wrong thinking, it's an exercise in futility.
Andrew Gore is executive editor/news for MacWEEK. Please send your comments,
criticisms, or clever recipes for humble pie to Andy_Gore@macweek.com. Unless you specifically state otherwise, Mr. Gore reserves the right to reprint part or all of your messages in the "Comments from the Ether" section that will debut in a future column.