It’s either a heartening sign of commerce or a pathetic commentary on the debt debate: Apple has more cash than the United States government.
Apple’s cash reserve is about $76.2 billion. And while Congress stalled over the debt debate, the nation’s total operating balance was confined to $73.8 billion.
Sure, the comparison isn’t exactly apples to apples (pun intended). The government figure represents the leeway the U.S. had before bumping into the debt ceiling, whereas Apple’s number is actual money the company has on its balance sheet.
All the same, the fact remains that the technology company is holding more cash than the entire government of the world’s largest economy.
To put that in perspective, we’ve compared the U.S. government’s debt ceiling (before it was raised) to the cash reserves of several other prominent companies. Although the government is second only to Apple, companies like Microsoft and Exxon Mobil aren’t far behind.
We've chosen companies that are particularly interesting, but note that this is not a comprehensive list. Here’s how it all shakes out. And below, five lessons the U.S. could learn from Apple's example.
It's obviously not the perfect analogy, but could there be a few things the U.S. government could learn from Apple?
- Be proactive: Steve Jobs has been acclaimed for "giving customers what they want before they know they want it." Similarly, who wouldn't love to see our government engage in a little creative foresight, as opposed to lobbing legislative Hail Marys when crisis looms?
- Compromise with caution: Apple's success rests solely on its products—and all of those stem from Jobs's well-known management style. As Wired puts it, Jobs "exerts unrelenting control over his employees, his image, and even his customers." While we respect President Obama's push for an across-the-aisle solution, perhaps the debt crisis could have been resolved sooner if he'd been a little more top-down. (Of course, we recognize that Jobs doesn't face a reelection campaign.)
- Allow yourself to be humbled: Jobs started Apple in his parents' garage at 20 ... and was fired by 30. But, he's said, "Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me ... It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." When he returned to Apple, it was with bigger and better ideas. The moral? When it comes to problem-solving, check your ego at the Senate door.
- Think outside the Beltway: Jobs has been known to call upon diverse experiences to keep Apple ahead of the pack. (Famously, he drew on his knowledge of calligraphy to make the Mac the first computer with pretty typography.) Maybe the lesson, then, is that solutions come from where you'd least expect. While the politicians shaping this debate may have limited frames of reference, calling in more Washington outsiders might help them see crises through new eyes.
- Ditch programs that don't work: In contrast to the business school philosophy of diversifying your product offerings to reduce risk, Apple's model is about putting resources behind a few core products and working hard to make them exceptional. When it comes to budget cuts, the analogy is clear.
Should we just elect Steve Jobs as president?
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