NEW YORK -- Apple (AAPL) may be gearing up production at its Chinese vendor FoxConn. Or offering new discounts on iPhones. But Shirley Jones is not impressed."I have some things from Brookstone, maybe a Nokia ( NOK)," Jones told me during a serendipitous 15-minute chat at a New York media event. "I don't have a Facebook ( FB) page. I know how it works, but technology does not interest me. I'd rather be out skiing." Jones was signing autographs, making chatter and bringing some much needed luster -- she looked fabulous, by the way -- to a tech vendor event here on New York's west side. That's the nitty-gritty of what we geek analysts do: show up and troll through large rooms full of company representatives, showing off the latest devices from the likes of Samsung, Lenovo and Blackberry ( RIMM). About 150 journalists and analysts came out this night looking for news. Of which, trust me, there was not much of. Electronics has officially become an extension of the Web these days -- 10,000 sites and nothing on. Until I started talking with Ms. Jones. And, wouldn't you know it, the once and future star of The Partridge Family, Oklahoma, The Music Man and many other films, plays and TV shows turned out to pack some serious tech investor street cred. "I just think most of this is just so boring," she said, as she sipped her martini during a break from signing autographs, gesturing around a room full of so-called cutting-edge tech. A $25 million Jones
Investors would be foolish to dismiss this Academy Award-winning actress -- she was so great in Elmer Gantry -- as illiterate to the ways of money. CelebrityNetWorth.com estimates she's worth about $25 million, an impression confirmed by what had to be 10 carats of jewelry on her wedding ring finger and the clear look of satisfaction from someone whose agent site says she fetches between $10,000 and $20,000 per appearance. Tonight she was doing nothing more than sitting under a giant fake TV, signing autographs. The more I spoke with Ms. Jones, the more I realized she not only knows her technology; I had found a sister in skeptical arms. When I asked her about how she manages social media or communicates with her kids, "On the phone. What else would you use?" she said. "I have 12 grandkids. They don't use Facebook anymore."
The more she and I talked, the louder we got, the more other journalists wandered over. Among them, a young two-person video crew from the International Business Times, a global Web outlet with offices in New York. Nicholas Deel, the technical editor there, and I got talking about valuation. That was when he broached the elephant in the room: Namely, what would be a better investment over time? The brand value of a midlevel star such as Ms. Jones or any one of the gadgets in this room? Say, a Samsung Galaxy, BlackBerry or Dish TV ( DISH)? "You mean long term?" he said. "What would be a better bet?" Deel looked me. Looked at Ms. Jones. Looked at the room full of electronics. And without missing a beat said, "Jones. For sure." At which point, she smiled, finished her martini, got up and quietly disappeared behind the fake TV set she was sitting in front of. And suddenly, there we all were, back in an empty room full of electronics that over time will be worth nothing at all. If only we could figure out how to take Shirley Jones public, we all could make some real money in this market.