Could Apple Be the World's Most Valuable Company Without Steve Jobs?

Fanboys are breathless from so much wanking today, paralyzed by genital turgidity because Apple briefly surpassed ExxonMobil as the most valued company in the stock market. Right now, Exxon is still number one at 352.9 billion compared to Apple's 346.74 billion.

But even if Apple's stock market capitalization were actually higher than Exxon's, would it be a more valuable company? The answer is probably no.

The rise of Apple

It's amazing that a company like Apple has been able to reach a giant like ExxonMobil in market capitalization. A couple decades ago it was just an overpriced beige box manufacturer with an obsolete operating system. I remember because I was a Mac fanboy then, when everyone was using Windows and Michael Dell said that the company should be sold as scrap and the money returned to its shareholders.

Then Steve came back.

After the iPod, Mac OS X, the iPhone, and iPad, Apple has become the number one technology company in the world. Bar none. There's no company with better style, design sense, attention to detail, marketing and manufacturing precision. Apple is the best, and that's why most consumers crave its products. That's why the rest of the industry follows Cupertino too, even into entirely new markets.

It was Steve Jobs' unique vision and his strict command of a brilliant troop of engineers that made—and still makes—it all possible. Together, they created the future. Now Apple is the new Microsoft, and they control it all—from the hardware to the operating systems to the apps their operating systems run.

The energy behemoth

ExxonMobil represents the past, a much-hated American multinational that started with John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil company. The largest of the oil companies and the company with the largest market capitalization in the world right now. They own oil fields, natural gas fields, liquified natural gas factories, tankers and gas stations all across the planet. Some even say that, together with the other big six oil companies, ExxonMobil runs the world.

They also make a lot more money than Apple. In the first quarter of 2011, ExxonMobil made a $10.65 billion in profit. Apple made $6 billion.

You could say that there's little vision at ExxonMobil, that the company's money comes out of the ground. There is no Steve Jobs, just liquid gold. Pump it and those billions will keep coming in.

Even in the middle of oil scarcity, they profit. Prices just go up, and that's the end of it. And because they own this whole energy business thing, and unless someone comes up with cold fusion in a can, they could probably keep doing this for several decades.

Where would I put my money

So, if I could invest money in the companies I write about, which one would be my pick?

As much as I hate the oil guys, I'd pick ExxonMobil for one single reason: They don't have the invaluable advantage and the problem that Apple has.

ExxonMobil doesn't depend on the man with the vision, the Wizard of Oz, the snake oil salesman, the amazingly brilliant asshole that is Steve Jobs.

I used to think that Apple could live without Jobs. Back in 2008 I wrote about how he was preparing his farewell and why I thought that, if he left, the company would be just fine. I was wrong.

Back then, investors disagreed with me. When we broke the news of the return of his cancer back in 2008, Apple lost billions in just a few minutes of trading. Back then, Apple and its friends at CNBC tried to deny the news that later was confirmed by Jobs himself.

The investors were right, and now I'm convinced that Apple can't be Apple without Steve.

Steve Jobs' health is probably not going to improve. Eventually—hopefully later rather than sooner—he will be gone. And that will be the beginning of the end for Apple, I'm afraid. Just like it happened with Microsoft and Sony, the company will enter its decline. It will not disappear or crash. It will not go down right away. I'm sure that there's plenty of magical stuff in Apple labs now. But it won't last forever.

But even during the past few months I have noticed the slipping. Even while they made their best quarter in history, there are signs that execution and vision at the company are failing—from the typography in their ads to the faults of Lion and some of the design decisions in iOS.

The future

So, ask yourself the same question: Would you put your stock in a company that can print money even when the oil fields are burning or in money that depends on a genius that may not be with us at any given time?

What is really the most valuable company, ExxonMobil or Apple?