Apple's Vision: Use Recessions To Grow

Over the past five years, the United States experienced the collapse of the housing market with record high foreclosures, an all-time high for the price of crude oil and gold, a fluctuating and unsure stock market, declining consumer confidence and spending, the government bailout of automotive companies, the meltdown of long established financial institutions and growing debt by the government.

Globally, three nations needed financial bailout from the European Union and Iceland has defaulted. Apple, on the other hand, simultaneously experienced a period of sustained and significant growth with Steve Jobs at the helm.

There has been a lot written about the departure of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple with well-deserved accolades. One of the most compelling legacies while running Apple for a second time was his company's incredible success financially that corresponded with the worst economic climate in 70 years.

In fact, the economy during the decade between 2000 and 2010 was the most sluggish since the 1930s.

During economic slowdowns many (but not all) companies, fearful of plunging earnings reports and the impact on Wall Street, respond with the usual strategies: cutting back on their marketing budget, slashing their commitment to research and development and downsizing the number of employees.

Other companies look at economic downturns as opportunities. Over the past five years, no corporation and CEO has thrived more in the past four years than Apple and Steve Jobs.

Throughout the past decade, Apple has disrupted and redefined industries. By rolling out new products and introducing product upgrades, Jobs has created a steady flow of publicity that made him the highest profile CEO of any company anywhere. In June 2007, when the housing market began to teeter, Apple released the first iPhone, a smartphone featuring a touchscreen.

Sales estimates on the first weekend alone ranged from 200,000 to 700,000 units sold with a cost of $499 for 4GB and $599 for 8GB. Each successive year, Apple has introduced more advanced versions of its iPhone (including the iPhone 3GS in 2009) selling over 100 million units and making it the most popular smartphone in the U.S.

The iPhone 5 is scheduled for release later this year and there is every reason to believe that the market will continue to respond with similar enthusiasm.

Apple opened its first app store in July 2008, between the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. Since that time, the number of apps available from Apple has approached 500,000. In a little over three years, 15 billion apps have been downloaded by 200 million iOS users. The result? In this harsh economic climate the app store has generated over $1 billion in revenue for Apple.

In April 2010, with unemployment in the U.S. at a shade under 10%, Apple introduced its iPad touchscreen tablet. This breakthrough product came with a price range of $500 to $830, depending upon the model and data package.

Similar to the iPhone, sales of the iPad were brisk, with estimates of 700,000 units sold in the first weekend. The iPad 2 was released the following year. Unaffected by growing fears of a double-dip recession, Apple sold an estimated 29 million units in just 15 months. The iPad 3 is expected to be released in early 2012 with comparable fanfare anticipated.

Other longer-established Apple products continue to produce revenue for the company. Since 2001 Apple has sold 220 million iPods -- another disruptive product.

In 2008, the year the recession officially began, the iPod garnered $9 billion in revenue. While sales have dropped since then, the iPod -- which is the least expensive of any Apple product -- maintains a 70% market share among MP3 Players.

Several months after the first iPhone debuted in 2007, Apple unveiled the iPod Touch, which had many of the characteristics of an iPhone including the capacity for wireless connections but without the phone component. Today the iPod Touch represents roughly one-half of all iPod sales.

In early 2008 Apple introduced the MacBook Air, and after a few product tweaks, is on schedule to produce $2 billion in revenue for Apple in 2011. Collectively, there are over 200 million devices using Apple's iOS operating system.

"The Great Recession" saw the financial decline of personal and corporate fortunes...but not for Apple. The cost to purchase one share of Apple's stock, accounting for splits and dividends, has more than quadrupled since January 2007. Now, Apple rivals Exxon Mobile as the most valuable company in market capitalization.

Recessions tend to spur a corporate natural selection, where the most disruptive, aggressive companies thrive. Apple has shown us that the ability to adapt, innovate and (re)produce is the missing link to creating Jobs in a recession.

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