Handpicked for Apple : Tough-Minded Spindler Takes Over in Tough Times


Two years ago, while rehearsing an important speech at a San Francisco auditorium, Michael H. Spindler, Apple Computer’s No. 2 executive, tripped off a 10-foot-high stage and collapsed in a heap. In the few moments it took Spindler to recover, near-panic set in among nearby company officials.

It was no time to lose Spindler. As Apple Chairman John Sculley’s heir apparent for the last three years, Spindler has been counted on to guide the young computer maker through its turbulent adolescence.

Now the 50-year-old, German-born engineer will have even more of a chance as Sculley announced Friday that he is turning over his post as Apple’s chief executive to his handpicked lieutenant.


Sculley said he will remain Apple’s chairman and continue to ponder the company’s future while Spindler continues to manage its day-to-day operations, as he has since becoming Sculley’s top deputy in early 1990.

With Sculley even more removed from the company--he will maintain an office on the East Coast as well as one in the Silicon Valley--Spindler is finally getting the authority he needs to take full rein of Apple and guide it through the coming collision of the worlds of computing, communications and entertainment, as well as myriad internal problems.

With Apple facing dwindling profit, unprecedented competition from rival, low-cost manufacturers and critical choices about its future course, industry executives predicted that Spindler will move quickly to impose substantial layoffs among Apple’s worldwide work force of 15,000. Later, they said, Spindler could be forced to shut down at least some of the new and expensive technology ventures Apple has started under Sculley.

“He has to pick the paths that hold promise and make the tough choices about the ones that don’t. He can do it,” said Jean-Louis Gassee, Apple’s former technology guru who left the company after a public feud with Sculley. “Spindler has none of the emotional baggage and all the intellectual firepower you need to pull the plugs on the programs that aren’t going anywhere.”

Nicknamed “The Diesel”--because, says one Apple employee, “he may be slow to get going, but once he builds a head of steam, there’s no stopping him”--Spindler has earned a reputation for being tough, focused and unafraid of making difficult decisions.

In mid-1991, Spindler presided when the company made its first-ever layoffs, trimming about 10% of its work force. Later that year, the company unveiled its PowerBook laptop computer, which generated sales of $1 billion in its first year on the market, the first personal computer to break that threshold.


A 13-year veteran of Apple, Spindler built the company’s successful European marketing operations before coming to the Cupertino headquarters in 1990 as chief operating officer. Later that year, he became president.

Spindler has fostered alliances with other technology companies to share research costs. Among those is the breakthrough deal with International Business Machines and Motorola to develop a new computer for advanced multimedia products.

Spindler, who was born in Germany during World War II, scraped by with his mother in the grim years following the war. After graduating with an engineering degree, he worked throughout Europe for Schlumberger Ltd., Siemens, Digital Equipment Corp. and Intel Corp. Spindler is still a German citizen, but moved to the United States in 1990.


Changing of the Guard

At a critical moment, Apple Computer gets a new chief executive.


Michael H. Spindler

Born: Dec. 22, 1942

Career highlights: Apple Computer president, 1991-93; Apple chief operating officer, 1990; sales and marketing executive for Apple Europe, 1980-90. Previous employers include Intel and Gigital Equipment.

Family: Married, with three children.

Quote: “”We at Apple have to surprise the user base all the time with stuff they never even think about. At the same time, we have to give markets what they want now.”


1983: Apple’s earnings drop while stock plummets to $35, half its price in 1982. In April, Apple co-founder Steve jobs brings in John Sculley fjrom Pepsico as Apple’s new president.

1984: The Macintosh is unveiled in January.

1985: Jobs seeks to oust Sculley. A showdown ensues between the two, and by September Jobs and several other executives leave the company to form Next computer company.

1986: Sculley becomes chairman of Apple.

1990: Michael H. Spindler is named company president, positioned to succeed Scully.

1991: PowerBook laptop is introduced and goes on to generate more than $1 billion in sales. Sculley forges a deal with old rival IBM to develop software.

1993: Sculley steps aside as chief executive but stays on as chairman. Spindler takes the helm.

Researched by C.A. Wedlan / Los Angeles Times