Apple Inc. (AAPL): A History Lesson

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) sits on an enormous $137 billion cash pile — more than the gross domestic product of Vietnam. Until recently, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was also debt-free. That combination appears to leave Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) poised to unleash the next world-changing innovation. But without passion, it doesn’t matter how much money Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) — or any company — has. Money alone can’t drive a company to greatness.

Apple Inc. (AAPL)A History Lesson

Samuel Pierpont Langley had an impressive resume: mathematician, scientist, and advisor to the U.S. military. If anyone could invent a motorized, piloted airplane, surely he could. In 1898, he received $70,000 in grants — just over $60 million in today’s dollars — to do just that.

Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, in contrast, had no high school diplomas, no college experience, and no funding.  While Langley hired Cornell graduates to build his flying machine, they hired a guy from their bicycle repair shop. With no grant money to spend, they funded their risky project with their profits from the bike shop.

If you were a gambler, you’d likely bet on the Harvard man, his brilliant team, and his piles of money. But on Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright took a 12-second flight into the history books. Langley spent five fruitless years working on his flyer. But in the battle between his money and the Wrights’ passion, Langley still fell short.

Just like the Wrights, today’s tech innovators continue to prove that a passion for new discoveries matters more than money in the bank.

More Than Just Money

Investors like it when a company has large cash assets; that money supposedly makes their investment more secure. Here are the three companies with the biggest stockpiles of cash:

Company Cash Pile
Apple $137 billion
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) $68 billion
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) $48 billion

We’ve all speculated on what these companies could do with their cash piles.  Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) could innovate the next great product. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) or Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) could buy out Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO).  But as we’ve observed from history, if these companies lose their souls — and their passion for developing exciting new products — their cash piles won’t guarantee success.