Apple made history in August 2018 by becoming the first company to achieve a trillion-dollar market capitalisation.

Given Apple’s success in recent years, you might not be surprised that it passed this milestone, but its 40-year history hasn't been a straight upward sloping line. There was a time when Apple was nearly bankrupt and its journey from zero to hero can provide some valuable lessons and insights for Western Australian businesses.

Apple’s rise from start-up to the brink of bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable public company has been remarkable. Underpinning the journey has been rapid innovation, a series of smash-hit products and the creation of a sophisticated, globe-spanning supply chain that keeps costs down while producing enormous volumes of cutting-edge devices.

On April 1 1976 Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne signed a partnership agreement to establish Apple with the mission of making computers — then bulky, complicated industrial machines — cheap, small and simple so they could become a mass-market product.

In 1985, Mr Jobs was ousted in a boardroom coup. In the subsequent years, the company lost its way and was increasingly outgunned and outmanoeuvred in the personal computer market it helped invent – this was due to a lack of new ideas, failed products and leadership turmoil. By the end of 1996 Apple was worth less than US$3 ($4.19) billion.

To combat the downward spiral Mr Jobs was rehired as CEO in 1997. According to Mr Jobs, Apple was 90 days from going bankrupt. To save the company he slashed 70 per cent of Apple’s staff and products, commissioned the company’s ‘Think Different’ ad campaign and reimagined how it put its products together.

“We’re trying to get back to the basics,” a weary Mr Jobs said in a 1997 internal meeting with staff. “The question now is not: Can we turn around Apple? I think that’s the booby prize. I think it’s: Can we make Apple really great again?”

Mr Jobs succeeded in making the company great again but sadly died in 2011. Under new CEO Tim Cook, Apple’s share price continued to rise until it reached the coveted US$1 trillion mark. Can Apple continue to remain in its illustrious position or will it fall back into its old ways?

Apple’s journey is a true indication of how being open to change and reacting accordingly to that change is the marker of success.

As an example, upon noticing sales of iPhones in China had slowed considerably and realising microeconomic conditions would follow suit, Apple made the decision not to focus its efforts on just its products but also developed a long-term strategy focusing on online services. This is the area of growth for Apple and shows me it will continue to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.

Just remember the company you end up with is not necessarily the company you started with. Agility and evolution are key.

7 leadership lessons we can learn from Apple

  1. Innovation over invention
    Apple didn’t invent the PC, MP3 player, smartphone or tablet. They took those concepts and applied a different approach or extra polish to make them desirable. Apple is always evolving.

  2. Attention to detail
    It's the small details that make Apple's products shine.

  3. Offer a complete package
    Empower the customer. Where do iPod, iPhone and iPad users get their apps, music and movies from? From third parties. Users are not limited to Apple-created products and can get everything from a single place - the App Store.

  4. Charge a premium
    Apple doesn't compete on price. Price is what you pay, value is what you get.

  5. Understand the customer or user experience
    Few of us can hope to achieve cult status, but remember clients approach you for your expertise. They want solutions so their experience is paramount to your success.

  6. Culture
    Apple has a ruthless focus on its corporate culture, which is the envy of the business world. It has more than 50,000 employees across the globe. Values are everything, they set behaviours. Enriching lives is the big deal at Apple.

  7. Create advisory boards for growth and strategy
    Advisory boards have been a big part of Apple's surge to the top.
    • Apple User Group Advisory Board
      – Apple’s success is due largely to its obsessive focus on the user experience. The User Group Advisory Board is a diverse group of leaders chosen by Apple to provide feedback and find ways to improve their product.
    • Apple University – faculty comprises professors from different universities. Designed to inculcate employees into Apple's business culture via Apple case studies.
    • Advisory Board Supplier Responsibility program – as part of Apple’s ongoing efforts to improve labour practices in its supply chain, the company formed an advisory board to oversee its Supplier Responsibility program.

Peter Williams is the Founder and CEO of the Australian Advisory Board Institute.