What to Take to the South Pole?
In his 1910 to 1912 race to the South Pole against Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott brought along less supplies than his opponent, despite having raised a healthy $5.4 million (2014 values) to fund the trip. Scott had only two supply depots to serve a distance for which Amundsen had seven. And his final rendezvous party could not meet up with him owing to a lack of dog food—an inexpensive but critical item for such a journey. Had he spent his funds more wisely, his team may well have returned from the journey, rather than starving to death 18 kilometers short of their base camp.
“Better a thousand times careful than once dead.”— Proverb
Apple had accumulated cash reserves of $147 billion by the end of 2013. However, for a company whose name has become synonymous with innovation, Apple’s R&D spending is surprisingly low: approximately 3 percent of the company’s net sales in 2013 (down from about 8 percent ten years before) and ranked only 46th globally (behind the likes of Samsung and Hewlett-Packard). Certainly, R&D spending levels are no guarantee of productivity, and Apple has demonstrated high productivity in the past. Still, Apple has no visible vehicle for “moon shot” projects akin to Google X, raising the question of whether the company could be even more successful if it more fully leveraged its cash mountain.