Dirty, Rotten E-Mail Liar Accuses Apple of Being Worth a Lot More

By JIM CARLTON

Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

c. January 1996

To Apple Computer Inc.'s litany of woes, add a mad e-mailer. The e-mailer struck this week with a copy of a bogus message from Sony Corp.'s president threatening a hostile takeover of the Cupertino, Calif., computer maker. The "letter" showed up in e-mail baskets of computers throughout Silicon Valley and beyond.

Managers at Apple read the letter with great interest -- until they got to the part about Sony offering $63 a share, or roughly double Apple's stock value.

Now Silicon Valley is abuzz about who the mad e-mailer is. Sony has launched an investigation, promising to explore "the availability of appropriate legal action against those responsible."

At first glance, the letter appears to be worded authentically enough. Addressed to Apple CEO Michael Spindler from Nobuyuki Idei, it says Sony intends to buy all of Apple's shares for $7.74 billion after a breakdown in merger talks that were supposedly taking place between the two companies. "We believe this is the fastest, most efficient way to bring our companies together," Mr. Idei purportedly says.

But at Apple, executives quickly dismissed the letter as a prank. For one thing, the Apple e-mail address was for a "c.franz," a person unknown to the company. The letter also misidentified Mr. Idei as Sony's chairman and CEO. And initial notification of such a takeover bid is almost never made by letter, for secrecy reasons.

So just who is the mad e-mailer? The return address was left blank, and a list of suspects could prove endless. A disgruntled employee is one possibility. Scads of Apple managers have departed in recent months. Or, analysts say, it could be a cheap shot by an employee at an Apple competitor. Whoever the culprit is, "this sounds like a real attempt to tick somebody off," says Mark Macgillivray, an industry consultant in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The e-mail letter was circulating as Apple was announcing an estimated loss of $68 million and plans for a restructuring that analysts expect to include massive layoffs. Since Apple has long been rumored to be a takeover target, the letter added to the angst in Cupertino.

In a reflection of morale at Apple, some engineers are joking they're disappointed the letter was phony. They would have liked Apple to accept the offer.


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Last Amended: 21 January 1996


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