Appleton death a blow to Treasure Valley
Published: February 3,2012
When Micron CEO Steve Appleton perished in a plane crash Feb. 3, he left behind a legacy of unrivaled community and business support in Boise.
And as numerous business officials in the Treasure Valley mourn Appleton, there are some with underlying concerns on what the region looks like without him.
Micron itself will see a change in leadership, which can produce issues for huge companies.
Brian Greber, Center for Business Research and Development director at Boise State University, said Micron management will have to be vigilant to keep employees on track and not hurt the company’s productivity.
“You start off with employee focus, that you don’t have employees distracted by things that are well beyond their control. It’s times like this that the rumor-mongering in the ranks can create unsafe and unproductive distractions,” Greber said.
Greber said Boise shouldn’t worry about a major shift in direction for the company and does not believe that new management will abandon Idaho.
But others worry that Appleton’s dedication to Boise will not be matched by new executives, who could see more possibilities elsewhere in future company decisions.
“His personal commitment to that corporation and the Boise valley is huge,” said one local angel investor who knew Appleton personally but did not wish to be named. “And we’re at risk. If they get a new CEO or they start entertaining offers for busting up the company, that’s an incredible blow to the valley if they get a CEO from outside the valley who isn’t committed to it.”
Dave Petso, a certified financial planner in Boise who has closely followed Micron and Appleton, said that long term outlooks for the company change very little.
“I would assume the company is more than prepared for this and will continue on, not just operationally, but in fine fashion,” Petso said. Micron stock likely will be hurt initially, but “one of the attributes of great CEOs is when they can make themselves dispensable with good hires, and Micron has good hires in there.”
The near-term effect, in the next few months, likely will be minimal, said Kevin Jones, a principal with Harmonic Investment Advisors. He was not surprised by Micron’s announcement that President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Durcan — who earlier announced he would retire in August — will serve as interim CEO until a successor is appointed.
“Steve was a visionary, trying to position the company to be successful three, five, seven years down the road,” Jones said. “Durcan is an operational guy. He is the one who executed the plan.”
Durcan’s operational expertise is what is needed in the near term, Jones said.
The board will have to find a leader of the caliber of Appleton, “a visionary for the very difficult business environment of the next five years,” Jones said.
Outside of Micron, leaders say that Appleton’s shoes are not easy to fill when it comes to supporting charity, economic development and the image of the Treasure Valley.
Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce executive director Bill Connors said Appleton supported a slew of community causes too long to list. He said Appleton was a large part of Boise becoming a market for the technology industry.
“As the rest of the world looks at Boise, one of the things they see is a community driven by creativity, by high technology, and that image has been driven by people like Steve Appleton,” Connors said.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said in a statement that Appleton was “a great friend to Boise.”
“He will be remembered as a major force in Idaho history — a man who transformed our state’s economy by redefining what is possible for Idaho business,” Bieter said.
BSU president Bob Kustra credited Appleton with helping transform higher education aims in the valley by playing “a critical role in transforming Boise State into a research university serving the tech economy of Idaho.”
Connors said there is no one person who could take over the philanthropy or economic development support for Appleton.
“But hopefully with his passing, a lot of business leaders will say, ‘hey, this is how I want to be remembered as well,’” Connors said.
Rob Perez, president and CEO of Western Capital Bank in Boise, said that when reflecting on Appleton’s generosity for the community, he would like to see more corporate citizens inspired.
“I would hope that we could expand the corporate well-being in this community so that we reduce … our reliance on a few giving a lot and expand that to many more giving,” he said.