Gold and delicious.

That was the apt title The Economist gave an article describing Apple Inc.’s recent success. Shortly after it clocked the largest quarterly profit by any company in history, Apple became the first to exceed the staggering market valuation of $700 billion. Since Apple’s initial public offering in December 1980, the company’s market value has risen more than 50,600%, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It is not bad for a company that was famously 90 days away from bankruptcy in the 1990s. When Tim Cook took over as chief executive officer in 2011, many people feared for Apple’s future without Steve Jobs. Apple’s value has more than doubled since then. Its value is double that of Google Inc.

What I find the most interesting, however, is that, paradoxically, the company’s primary goal is not to make profits. Steve Jobs always made it clear that Apple was in business primarily to make great products, not big profits. “Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products," he told his biographer. “But the products, not the profits, were the motivation."

Seen from that perspective, the most telling business moment last year was not the launch of the iPhone 6 but an investor meeting in February 2014. Tim Cook was confronted by a shareholder resolution from a conservative think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR). The resolution called for Apple to be transparent about investments that might “primarily advance social or environmental causes rather than promoting shareholder value".

One journalist present wrote that Cook became quite irritated when he responded: “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI (return on investment)." He said the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety and other areas where Apple is a leader. He followed that up by saying, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock." The NCPPR’s proposal received 2.95% of the vote.

The episode was yet more evidence of the amount of confusion there seems to be about what drives profits. Paul Polman of Unilever Plc faced a similar discussion at the company’s annual shareholders meeting last week. “While many agree that Mr. Polman’s efforts to promote responsible business are laudable", the Financial Times reported, “some shareholders fear that, after six years at the helm of the Anglo-Dutch group, he may have started to care more about the environment than about them."

The key assumption behind such lines of thinking seems to be that to be profitable, the company must focus on making money. What Cook says instead, is that not everything Apple does that is valuable to customers is done after checking the numbers. Sometimes Apple does things because they are right. In fact, Apple has a long history of doing things that customers did not even know was valuable to them. How do you make reasonable ROI calculations in such a case. If we could get an Excel template to do the math in situations like that, anyone could become king.

Naturally, if you create a lot of value you are entitled to capturing a good proportion of it in the form of profits. Which is why Apple charges a serious price for its devices. It is also why it did not create a low-cost version of the iPhone for the Chinese and Indian markets —as many investors had relentlessly pressed the company to do. Cook credited Apple’s success in large part to “blocking out" such calls and trust its ability to sell high-end phones to Chinese customers. As I have written earlier Biting through the sour Apple, a cheap iPhone would have been disastrous for the company as its entire value philosophy would have been undermined. It would have sacrificed itself to the luring call of the earnings “sirens". Unilever’s Polman argues that the pressure Unilever faces is less with the company and more with market forecasts. “Analysts have over-optimistic expectations," he says. “We would be a hostage to the financial market if we ran this company judged on expectations."

Apple, and well-led companies like it, create profits by being of value, not by counting beans. And they don’t let bean counting come in the way of creating value, even if they do not have a complete line of sight on how that value will find its way into the bottom line. If profits were created by focusing on profits, anyone could have created a 50,600% share increase in 35 years.“Keep your eye on the ball, not on the scoreboard", as they say in soccer. Or as the Bhagavad Gita advises more profoundly, “Be focused on action and not on the fruits of action."

Tjaco Walvis is the managing director of brand consulting and advertising agency THEY India, and a speaker at the Outstanding Speakers’ Bureau. He writes a fortnightly column on the softer cultural aspects of marketing that often tend to be ignored by marketers.

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