A Humbler Apple Tries Squeezing Into Pinstripes

What a load of frustration. For a decade, James B. McLaughlin, director of research and development for Bergen Brunswig Corp., had been trying to get Apple Computer Inc. to sell him Macintoshes his way. When he wanted a special hardware configuration that wasn't on computer-store shelves, Apple said forget it. The company didn't cater.

Not, that is, until this year. When McLaughlin came knocking, asking for a custom Mac for the Orange (Calif.) distributor of health-care products to provide to pharmacies, Apple went on alert. A meeting with Chief Executive Officer Michael Spindler was arranged and, after a 10-minute discussion, a deal was done.

Apple would break its old rules and adapt a Macintosh created for the school market for McLaughlin's needs. Pharmacists would use these to manage their businesses and track stock and purchasing patterns. Bergen Brunswig ordered 5,000. Says McLaughlin: "Today, Apple is right in there, scrapping with the other computer companies. I don't know if there was a humbling or what, but they changed."

Humbled? You bet. Changed? Apple is working on it. When Apple's sales stalled in the summer of 1993, the company didn't just change CEOs, it completely changed its attitude. Spindler is, as he likes to say, the first CEO at Apple who started there "carrying a sales bag." Little wonder, then, that he is turning up the heat to win over business customers.

AVON CULLING. The question is, of course, whether Apple stands a chance. Yes, but it will be a hard slog. Beefing up its presence in the corporate arena is undoubtedly the toughest element in Spindler's turnaround plan. In addition to Bergen Brunswig, the company claims some recent conquests, including Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Cornish & Carey Residential, and Trisim, a Fort Worth trucker. But gaining enough converts to lift its share of the business market significantly looks iffy. Sporadic and ineffective efforts over a decade have left the Macintosh with just 5.8% of the business market, not enough to excite software writers. Now, the Mac is behind in client/server programs, a must in corporate computing. "We're using some applications that don't exist for the Mac," says Andre Razzino, a manager of PCs and networks for Avon Products Inc.

Sounds grim. But Apple isn't daunted. Its ambition: to increase its share of the $46 billion worldwide business market to 15% in the next five years. Power Macs, the first Macs in years that can compete on price and performance, are a start. On top of that, Apple is increasing its national sales force and has gotten PowerSoft and SAP to adapt their client/server software for Macs. "The good news is our momentum is building," says James J. Buckley, president of Apple USA. "We're seeing some general acceptance of Power Mac in the large account space."

It will take a tractor-trailer full of momentum--and more--to make a dent in a market that has 13 years and billions of dollars invested in software for computers using Intel Corp.'s microprocessors and Microsoft Corp.'s operating-system software. "When Corporate America looks at all the agony it would have to go through to switch, it's just not worth it," says Martin Reynolds of Computer Intelligence InfoCorp.

Apple argues that it now has the products, the prices, and the attitude to make buying Macs a worthwhile choice for business. To convince buyers from top companies, it plans to bring 1,200 of them to Apple's briefing center this year to inspect the company's wares and listen to proposed solutions for their information-technology needs.

"AGE-OLD STORY." Most important, Apple is no longer asking customers to scrap all that IBM PC software. Power Macs will fit into the corporation by running the software that's already there--as well as the Mac's own programs. Today, it's done through a program called SoftWindows. It runs applications written for Microsoft Windows, although at a slower pace than programs written for the Power Mac. In November, the company will unveil "Houdini," an add-in card for Power Macs that packs an Intel 486-compatible microprocessor.

To the skeptics, it doesn't much matter what Apple says now. "Apple's push into Corporate America is an age-old story," says analyst William M. Bluestein of Forrester Research Inc. "And it's not been a good one." Apple will have to turn around a lot more customers like Bergen Brunswig before it can write a happy ending.

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