Apple Computer Inc.'s chief executives have mostly been larger-than-life personalities. First there was Steve Jobs, the smooth-talking, smooth-looking California native who made himself a folk hero by turning a garage hobby into a wildly successful computer company--all by the time he was 30. Later, there came John Sculley, the publicity-savvy former PepsiCo marketing man turned high-tech visionary, who hobnobs with the Clintons and is a media favorite when it comes time for someone to talk up the new world of interactivity, multimedia, and the like.
The mold has just been broken. Michael H. Spindler, Apple's new CEO, is a stout 50-year-old German who is rarely quoted in the press and is known more for his nuts-and-bolts organizational savvy than any technological vision. A 13-year Apple veteran, Spindler has risen to the top because of his skill at reining in costs and at raising productivity.
NO TIME FOR CHITCHAT. The company's new CEO proved his mettle in Europe, where he ran Apple's operations for a decade, and then in Cupertino, Calif., where he has been chief operating officer since 1990. In his new position, he's unlikely to spend much time chitchatting with the glitterati. "I don't believe in this star-mania stuff," Spindler said a few years ago in Paris. "I'm too much of a believer in teams to worry about becoming a star."
Spindler's trademark attention to detail, however, is just what Apple's board thinks the company needs these days. "He understands manufacturing, he's brilliant and hardworking, and he has less of a commitment to having a public persona," says board member Bernard Goldstein, an investment banker. Insiders say that for the past three years, while Sculley was racking up frequent-flier miles, Spindler has been running Apple--in fact if not in name. Spindler, for example, is the one who compressed Apple's product-development cycles from a too-costly 18 to 24 months three years ago to just 9 months today. "I think Mike Spindler is the unsung hero of Apple's success over the last two years," says Jobs.
Spindler developed his management skills at a series of European headquarters. Armed with a degree in electrical engineering, he started his career at Siemens. The post was a dream job for German engineering grads, but he found life there too staid. "I figured there was more to life than being an engineer," he once explained. So he moved through European sales and marketing jobs at Schlumberger, Intel, and Digital Equipment.
Spindler joined Apple in 1980 as marketing manager for European Operations, when it was little more than a tiny office. A workaholic, he helped build Apple into a European powerhouse--its market share there is 8.1%--and he was president of European Operations from 1987 to 1990. That gives Spindler, who speaks French and Italian as well as German and English, one obvious edge over Sculley. "He has a real global perspective on the industry," says an executive at an Apple joint-venture partner. "He obviously has a lot more feel for what's happening outside the U.S. marketplace than Sculley."
WORK VS. WORKOUT. Spindler has hung on to his European reserve even in the laid-back California environment. But Apple employees nonetheless praise him for being warm and approachable. David Burnham, a quality engineer for new products at Apple, says Spindler displays greater rapport with employees than Sculley did. "Not many people on my level see or deal with Sculley," Burnham says, while Spindler enjoys roaming the halls and saying hello to Apple workers. And he has made it his affair to know everyone else's business. "Spindler is one of the few guys who understands the business top to bottom," says Bruce Gee, product manager for Apple's PowerPC project.
Outside the office, Spindler spends his time quietly with his French wife and their three children. Any hobbies? PR man Regis McKenna, a close friend, says Spindler has but one passion: work. McKenna says friends have pressured Spindler to exercise more, and the CEO has installed exercise equipment in his home. Given the heavy responsibility that Spindler is shouldering now, it's not likely to get used much any time soon.