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5 Lessons From Apple's Rise to #1 Tech Company

It's official, folks. At today's market close, Apple supplanted Microsoft to become the most valuable technology company in America. Exxon Mobil is the only corporation with a bigger market capitalization.

This caps the most impressive turnaround in the history of corporate America, a 13-year rags to riches story since Steve Jobs returned to the company that more or less fired him 12 years before. When Jobs returned in 1997, Apple was nearly bankrupt and ironically needed a cash infusion from archrival Microsoft to stay afloat.

Here are the 5 lessons from Apple's remarkable turnaround:

  • Luck is a big part of business success. If then-CEO Gil Amelio hadn't bought Next and brought Jobs back to Apple as an advisor, things would certainly have turned out differently.
  • Failure is not the end of the world. Few people or companies go straight up and to the right; there are always hurdles, detours, and bumps in the road.
  • Most companies become turnarounds sooner or later. Apple, IBM, HP, Starbucks, Dell, Yahoo, it's a long, long list. Some are successful, some aren't. Some take multiple tries. Nothing's automatic or preordained.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention; desperation makes strange bedfellows; and great leaders must, at times, be humble. Apple needed archrival Microsoft to support Office for the Mac and invest $150 million.
  • A turnaround CEO can also be a great ongoing CEO. Steve Jobs, Lou Gerstner, Mark Hurd, for example.
Top 10 American companies, by market cap, as of market close on May 26, 2010:
  1. Exxon Mobil - $278B
  2. Apple - $222B
  3. Microsoft - $219B
  4. Wal-Mart - $188B
  5. Procter & Gamble - $174B
  6. Berkshire Hathaway - $173B
  7. General Electric - $171B
  8. Johnson & Johnson - $164B
  9. IBM - $158B
  10. Bank of America - $155B