Weekend Edition: Ding Dong

Matthew JC. Powell
11 January, 2008
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The world has been rocked this week with the news that Apple has added Andrea Jung to its board of directors. That’s right, that Andrea Jung, the CEO of Avon. That’s right, that Avon, the door-to-door cosmetics company. Clearly this indicates a radical new direction in Apple’s retail strategy: as well as mass-market retailers, specialised independent resellers, company-owned stores and of course online, Apple is now going to recruit an army of enthusiastic salespeople hoofing it from house to house with sample cases.

I can imagine it now. "Good afternoon, ma’m, would you be interested in looking at our range of high-end desktop hardware? Highly configurable to complement your own individual style. Yes, I have some extra RAM here, so you can just see how that would look. Oh, yes, the pasty glow from that Cinema Display really brings out your cheekbones. You’re an Autumn, aren’t you?"

Of course, the appointment means nothing for the sort, but I’m amazed at the kind of speculation that I’m seeing in that general direction. For example, there’s a shopfront in a Melbourne shopping centre that says "Apple opening soon" or words to that effect on the front of it. Maybe it’s an official Apple Store, maybe it isn’t — I honestly don’t know, and nobody at Apple wants to tell me. I suspect Apple will go for a more prominent stand-alone streetfront location for its first Melbourne store, as it has for its Sydney store, but that’s just my feeling on it.

At any rate, the discussion on the forums (it started on MacTalk and has moved to a few others) has made much of the fact that it’s in a location known for its fashion shops, and of course with Apple "hiring" Andrea Jung, it makes sense for the company to open a store in a fashion district. Seems sound, right?

Well, actually no. For one thing, Apple has opened shops in fashion districts before, like The Ginza in Tokyo. It’s also opened a store in Tulsa Oklahoma, known for corn as high as an elephant’s eye. What I’m saying is, the choice of location and the presence or otherwise of Andrea Jung are not connected.

Ms Jung is a highly successful and accomplished businesswoman who will, I’m sure, bring fresh ideas and experience to the board of Apple. I doubt very much that she will bring cosmetic tips.

Think about it: Bill campbell, the former CEO of Intuit, is on the board of directors, but that hasn’t helped Apple to get better support for Quicken on OS X (particularly not internationally). Millard Drexler of clothing retailer J Crew is on the board, but Apple doesn’t sell computers as if they were shirts. Al Gore is on the board of directors — the same Al Gore who won an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of environmental causes — and still Greenpeace won’t let up on Apple for including a few toxic pollutants here and there in the odd iPod. Arthur Levinson, the CEO of Genentech, is on the board of directors at Apple, but that doesn’t mean Steve Jobs is breeding an unholy army of sheep-spider hybrids as part of his master plan to enslave the world with unbreakable wool and venomous fetta. (Note that it also doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t.)

The role of the board of directors is to provide oversight and broad guidance for the company. They keep the executives honest, and protect the interests of the shareholders. They don’t generally have any actual direct control over the company’s strategy (except for companies such as Apple where the Chairman of the Board is also Chief Executive Officer). Still, it’s fun to speculate about such things. And if I were in Melbourne I might grasp at any straw I can to believe that city will get an Apple Store (even a poky one in a shopping mall) before Sydney does — whatever shaky basis my reasoning had.

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