Apple shareholders meeting held in Cupertino

February 25, 2010 7:09:18 PM PST
Sporting a new shadow beard, a witty Steve Jobs presided over the annual Apple shareholders meeting at the company's Cupertino campus this morning to several rounds of applause for the company's performance and for his return to the helm after his six-month leave of absence last year following a liver transplant. Although the emerging beard is new, Jobs stuck to his usual outfit -- a black shirt and blue jeans.

He generated hearty laughs from the shareholders when asked about his plans for the $40 billion in cash the company has. "We were thinking of a toga party," Jobs quipped.

On a more serious note, Jobs defended the very large cash reserve as protection against future risk. He said that as the company takes risks, "it's nice to know the ground is still there when you land." He said the cash gives Apple both security and flexibility, such as being able to pay cash to acquire a company without having to borrow money. However, he did not indicate any such deal is in the works. Several shareholders suggested that they would like to see dividends.

Apple notched the download of its 10 billionth song from its iTunes store yesterday, yet that and other product news was never mentioned in the shareholder meeting. The milestone was reached when Louie Sulcer of Woodstock, Georgia downloaded Johnny Cash's "Guess Things Happen That Way." Apple is now the largest retailer of music in the country.

The shareholders and company executives focused instead on broader company issues, such as environmental sustainability and its use of young, hip consumers in its advertising. Former Vice President Al Gore is on the Apple board of directors, and he was praised for bringing his environmental consciousness to the company's inner circle. One shareholder suggested that middle-aged and older consumers should be featured in Apple ads, similar to her 90-year-old mother who owns and uses a MacBook Pro laptop every day. "I'll bet she thinks of herself as young and hip," joked Jobs.

Jobs was asked what keeps him up at night. What future challenge bothers him most? Jobs indicated it was the economy. "We thrive in an era of stability," he said. "People aren't going to be in a buying mood when they're worried about putting food on the table. It's out of our control."

A shareholder asked for details when AT&T exclusivity might end for the iPhone and whether Verizon might get the iPhone. Jobs said he had nothing to announce.