In 1997, a lot of investors felt that Apple was well on the way to oblivion. That's the same year that Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell, Inc., uttered his famous comment to an audience of IT managers: "I'd shut it [Apple] down and give the money back to the shareholders."
The Wall Street Journal's SmartMoney.com is reporting that since Apple is now the country's third-largest company in terms of stock market value and the #1 (Exxon-Mobil) and #2 (Microsoft) companies are seeing declines in their value, Apple could very well end up being the company with the highest valuation by year-end.
As the article points out, stock market value isn't always the best indicator of a company's size or economic value. In terms of sales, Apple ranks a paltry #42, which is even lower than Dell at #38. On the other hand, Apple is able to convert 29 cents of each sales dollar into operating profit, while Dell sees only 5 cents on each dollar.
Whatever the standard for valuation or "size" of a company may be, it's clear that Apple has made an incredible journey since the bleak days of 1997.