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From Macs to iMacs

by Ruth Hennessy on 23 October 2013

From Macs to iMacs

ipVA’s holistic view of Intangible Assets, or IP, includes the creative thinking and knowledge of a business’ employees. What we term Human Capital forms a vital part of any company’s creative engine. A prominent recent example of this is Angela Ahrendts, who, on 15th of October, announced her plans to leave Burberry, a brand that she had steered from choppy waters right through to plain sailing. Ms Ahrendts had been with Burberry for almost a decade and is widely credited with transforming the company into a global fashion brand. Under her watch, the once footballer’s favourite was restored to its former glory, with Burberry’s share price quadrupling and pre-tax profits more than doubling during her tenure there.

However, Tuesday’s news that the 53-year-old American was jumping ship wiped six per cent off the value of Burberry shares. Within an hour of markets opening in London, Burberry’s shares were down. With the sell-off accelerating after US investors awoke to the news, the shares closed down off 121p at £14.64, off 7.6pc on the day.

Ms Ahrendts’ will move to Apple, where she will become senior vice president for retail and online store. This move has prompted widespread speculation throughout the fashion and technology industries – with many commentators asking, Why Apple? Why Now? Why Ahrendts?

Why Apple?

The technology giant has experienced considerable consumer fragmentation and diversification in the face of growing competition from Android. Recent developments at Apple – namely, the release of the 5S and 5C iPhone models – suggest that they are struggling to maintain their brand identity whilst competing in the rapidly evolving smartphone market. In order to recapture the cult – like following that Apple once had, the company needs a leader capable of not only telling stories with brands, but creating fervor like loyalty to iconic names, like Ahrendts did with Burberry, and like Paul Deneve (also recently recruited for “special projects” by Apple) did for Yves Saint Laurent.

Why Now?

This move has come at a time when the technology giant is experiencing an increasing demand for luxury products in Asia (hence the iPhone 5S) as well as the growing millennial segment with limited budgets (hence the iPhone 5C). The appointment of Ahrendts (and Deneve, for that matter), however, is believed to be linked to Apple’s development of the iWatch, a project in which “an understanding of fashion will be as important as the technology and engineering behind the product”.

Why Ahrendts?

Ahrendts is uniquely placed for this role as she has experience embracing technology and innovation and effectively fragmenting (and revitalizing) a brand that was once floundering. John Guy, an analyst at Berenberg bank in London, believes that Apple will be a good fit for Ahrendts – “She has always been incredibly focused on the digital side of the business,” said Guy. “If she was going to go anywhere from Burberry, it would be to that area.” ·

Ahrendts will have more control over Apple’s 400+ retail stores than her predecessor, former Dixons CEO John Browett. Browett was ousted – after just 9 short months at Apple – in October 2012. A leaked report claimed that Browett had tried to boost profit margins “at the expense of Apple Store employees and overall customer experience”, reports an Apple Insider.

Ahrendts will be the first female member of Apple’s ten-member executive team and is expected to report directly into Tim Cook, giving the company an executive female in a world increasingly obsessed with Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, both of whom have been credited with breathing life into entities that seemed poised for decline. This positions Apple as much more gender-friendly and does wonders for the brand – something I am sure Ahrendts (whose £16.9m Burberry pay packet made her Britain’s highest paid CEO last year) is accutely aware of.

Ahrendts is considered unique within the fashion industry as she draws on her own strengths to put both customers and people (Human Capital) at the core of a business – something Browett failed to do. At Burberry, Ahrendts was able to create value on a global basis, using her intuition to focus the Burberry brand on the millennials and to create a connected culture that also joined employees together. Can she replicate this for the next phase of the Apple experience? With Ahrendts’ proven track record of utilizing corporate emotional intelligence to ensure sustainable competitive advantage, my guess is – Yes.

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Carl Icahn takes a substantial stake in Apple and claims that the company is massively undervalued.

Larry Ellison appears to predict the death of Apple without Job’s guiding hand.

Who’s right? or are neither?

Icahn is an interesting chap. Above all he seems to spot value that others don’t. Even by taking his position, the stock jumps and the sheep that seem to follow his lead (is that really an investment strategy-we follow Icahn?) also take positions.

His recent history has shown Icahn to be adept at spotting hidden IP value. He is attributed as being the catalyst for Motorola’s splitting its mobile unit and this being patent attractive enough to persuade Google to acquire the cover that Motorola Mobility provided.

What little has been said about his reasons for investing in Apple so far seems to indicate the his main motivation may be Apple’s cash reserves ($147bn and rising) and the commitment made to return $100bn of this to investors by 2015. At the rate at which Apple is generating cash that may only be one third of its cash ay that point.

We have a different view of Apple. We’ve taken an IP fundamentals approach to looking at Apple and also believe that it is only just getting started and has a long way still to go.

Then Larry pops up. According to a report in Slashdot this morning, Larry predicts using sign language, the death of Apple, unable to disruptively innovate without Job’s guiding hand.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison thinks that Apple will collapse without Steve Jobs at the helm. In a televised interview with CBS News, scheduled to air August 13, Ellison called the deceased Jobs ‘brilliant’ and compared him to iconic creators such as Thomas Edison and Pablo Picasso. When asked about Apple’s future now that Jobs is dead, Ellison didn’t hold back: ‘We already know, we saw — we conducted the experiment, it’s been done.’ Raising his hand above his head, presumably to indicate the rise of Apple’s fortunes during Jobs’ initial reign, Ellison said: ‘We saw Apple with Steve Jobs.’ Then he lowered his hand: “We saw Apple without Steve Jobs.” In other words, the period following Jobs’ ouster, when the company’s revenues declined and it launched whole portfolios of consumer products that failed. ‘We saw Apple with Steve Jobs,’ Ellison continued, raising his hand above his head again — this time, to suggest that incandescent period following Jobs’ return to the company, when it released the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and a variety of bestselling PCs. ‘And now, we’re going to see Apple without Steve Jobs,’ he finished, and his hand fell.”

Ellison is something of an enigma to me. Was I the only one that was surprised that Jobs and Ellison were such close allies, even friends, and that they shared long walks together?  By reputation, Ellison seems to have the fear element cracked. One rumour is that the phrase “elevator pitch” was even invented to describe the 30 seconds between the elevator in Building 5 at Redwood Shores (Oracle’s HQ) leaving G and arriving at 5 during which any unfortunate Oracle employee would have to answer Ellison’s question of “So, what do you do for Oracle?”

Which of Carl or Larry is right? Maybe they both are (Icahn’s time perspective is what, two years, Ellison could be talking about a timeframe of 5+ years), maybe neither is?

We see great things being still possible for Apple. Unpicking their IP strategy, we think they’re very well poised to move to the next level. You know, I really should write a book about this.

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Eric Schmidt answered my question!

August 9, 2013

In all the melee of the last 3 months I forgot to post about this quite (in the American sense of the word) significant bit of IP news and insight.  In May 2013, the London Business School invited Google Executive Chair Eric Schmidt to address an audience around the subject of a new book co-written […]

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Now the Nobel Prize winning community are pitching in-very poor Sledgehammer to crack a nut proposal

July 26, 2013

Is the expression “Sledgehammer to crack a Nut” used across the World? Or some variant of it? In Blighty (or the UK) it’s used to describe a solution to a problem that is somewhat excessive and out of context with the seriousness of the issue.  Like Nobel Prize winning but clearly Sledgehammer advocate Gary Becker. […]

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IPBC 2013-Monster Networking Event and the 90-10 split

June 12, 2013

Phew. 72 rumbunctious (love that word from Django) hours with the expanding IP community in Boston over. It went in a heartbeat but was a lot of fun. Boston (why do I keep on saying Bwosston in the style of Matt Damon from The Departed) is a special city.  Visiting Harvard on Sunday had to […]

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Barack Obama – IP Strategist

June 9, 2013

Regular readers of the Tangible IP blog will know that we do not look on NPEs, or “patent trolls,” favorably. They have the ability to significantly impede a company’s business, as they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from asserting patents. It seems that we are not alone in this view – “Stopping […]

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Smile, it’s Springtime

April 12, 2013

Been a while-time to come out of Winter hibernation I can get out of many good habits during the British winter, and this has been a particularly rotten one, so I’ve got out of the blogging habit. With temperatures hitting a heady 11° C in London today it seemed like a good time to get […]

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Hp and Autonomy appear to “ go to war” (or is Hp just laying down a smokescreen?)

November 27, 2012

 To follow up the post last week, I spent much of Sunday calmly and dispassionately looking through the facts and various commentaries surrounding the Hp and Autonomy dispute and thinking through two questions— What is really going on here? Are there any IP issues, where I can claim some insight and which are worthwhile commenting […]

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Hp and Autonomy–I feel a blog post coming on

November 22, 2012

It’s been a hectic few months and I’ve got out of the habit of blogging. There’s is much IP news around and some good informed debate (more of the former than the latter) but the Hp and Autonomy alleged accounting scandal caught my eye this week and seems worthy of debate. Noodling on the facts, here […]

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Brands that deserve to succeed, Mr Olympic Sausage

July 25, 2012

Thanks for the pointer to this article from the lovely Sam Funnell at ARM. Mr Olympic Sausage sounds like one of those names you come up with for your porn star name by combining the name of your first pet with your mother’s maiden name. In my case Wyn Bolton (or, with the right emphasis, Wyn,after the […]

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