Well, that might have been a mistake.
Jack Welch, the well-known former General Electric (GE) CEO who is best known for growing the company’s value to astronomical levels during his tenure, could have acquired Apple (AAPL) in 1996, one of his former top executives told The New York Post in an interview published on Thursday. What’s more, Bob Wright, a former NBCUniversal chief and GE vice chairman, says GE (GE) could have acquired Apple for just $2 billion.
“The stock price was $20, and [former Apple CEO Michael Spindler] was explaining he couldn’t get the company moving fast enough and the analysts were on his case,” Wright told The New York Post in an interview. “He was sweating like mad and everybody said, ‘We can’t manage technology like that.’ We had a chance to buy it for $2 billion.”
To put that into perspective, Apple’s current market cap is $617.5 billion. Some analysts have said that Apple could eventually reach a value of $1 trillion, if the company continues its upward progression. That wouldn’t have been a poor return-on-investment, eh?
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In the mid-1990s, Apple was at its low point. The company’s computer business was running on fumes, its market value was plummeting, and it seemed no one could fix the problem. It was a time when Apple tried out one of its biggest failures, the Apple Newton, and when it thought it could differentiate itself from the soaring Microsoft (MSFT) with help from an operating system project named Copland.
Spindler, who served as Apple’s chief executive between 1993 and 1996, was at the epicenter of the company’s troubles. And upon realizing that he couldn’t turn the company around, he sought out other companies to buy the struggling technology company. In 1995, Apple and IBM (IBM) held talks about a possible acquisition. Spindler is also said to have pitched an Apple buyout to Sun Microsystems and Philips, though those efforts fell apart.
In the last 20 years, there’s been no word that GE and Welch were approached to acquire Apple, so it’s unknown for sure whether those talks were serious or just held to gauge interest. It’s perhaps also worth noting that in 1995, it was reported that Apple was attempting to fetch about $7.3 billion for an acquisition—far above the $2 billion Wright says Spindler was seeking.
But even if GE or any other company had acquired Apple in 1996, who knows if Apple would have achieved the same heights under different leadership.
Apple’s success after the doldrums of the mid-1990s has been largely attributed to late co-founder Steve Jobs, who, after returning and canceling a slew of projects, went on to rebuild his ailing company. Without Jobs and his executive team, including design chief Jony Ive, it’s unknown whether Apple could have ever been revived.
Still, it’s an interesting tidbit in what has been 40 years of innovation, intrigue, and everything in-between. And if Spindler was indeed looking to sell Apple to GE, today’s technology world might look much, much different.
Neither Apple nor GE immediately responded to a request for comment.