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OPINION OCTOBER 23 , 2000
Talkin' Smack: Steve Jobs Said the 'S' Word

Is this the end of the hippie CEO?

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

Like all Mac psychofanatics, I am fully convinced that every word that comes out of Steve Jobs's mouth is directed personally to me, and each phrase, depending on inflection, diction, accompanying gestures, etc., is designed to convey to me a secret, hidden code revealing a subtext known only to him and me. I'm not sure what the term for such transcendental communication is, but I believe on saw it on a restraining order sent to me by the good attorney's of Ricky Martin.

At any rate, last week Steve Jobs and Apple CFO Fred Anderson held a conference call to discuss Apple's financial results and the company's prospects for the future. I listened through a live QuickTime stream. (There's no point in journalists calling in to Apple conference calls. Only analysts get to ask questions, so I'd just be sitting there, getting a crick in my neck because nobody will buy me a speaker phone.) So, although I was not in direct, two-way communication in the traditional sense, I knew that Steve Jobs, with his super-hippie powers, was aware of my presence.

Nevertheless, most of the discussion was targeted toward analysts, with shockingly few secret transmissions geared toward me personally. However, one utterance from Jobs came through loud and clear as a portent of disaster.

He said the "S" word.

Those of you who read this column regularly know what I mean when I refer to the "S" word. It is THE dirty word. A word that stands for everything I hate about corporate America. The word is "synergy."

This is the word corporate mooheads use when they basically have nothing. Used in conversation, it goes something like this:

Wall Street Journal reporter: "Mr. Corporate Moohead, can you tell me how your company is dealing with tough competition from Asia and how you plan to regain lost market share?"

Mr. Corporate Moohead: "Certainly. We intend to look into ways to synergize our assets and proactively seek out new business model paradigms."

It's a little trick they teach kids in moohead school these days: Say nothing concrete. Let Wall Street know that you have nothing to say right now, but express it in a way that says you're one of them and that you're working on it. Well, not you personally, but 70 percent of your work force has the title of vice president or above, and they're working on getting the minimum wage guys to come up with something. Since executives don't listen to minimum wage guys, they'll waste six months looking for an inhouse solution, then hire an outside consultant, who will tell them, in the end, that they ought to focus on synergizing their assets and seeking out proactive business model paradigms. Then that consultant will offer up a list of his friends the company can hire to do the task of figuring out how to go about doing this.

If you have an AOL account, go on and do a news search for the word "synergy" and its derivations (synergy, synergies, etc.). You will undoubtedly come up with a list somewhere between 600 and 1,500 press releases, all of them announcing financial results from companies that have very little going for them.

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