Photo by Joe Ravi/CC-BY-SA 3.0
I’ll never forget the day of October 5, 2011. My co-workers and I were holed up at the office, concerned about leaving the premises because the news just came out that a shooter was on the loose in the area (he had taken to hiding in the residential area across our office). We were glued to the news feeds on our computers, waiting to see if and when it was safe to go home. Then, in the middle of all the live updates, different news broke: “Steve Jobs has died.”
As the flags outside our Cupertino headquarters flew at half-mast, the world mourned with us. At the same time, the media were quick to write that it was only a matter of time until Apple collapsed—the end of Jobs was the end of Apple. Except that anyone that worked inside Apple’s walls thought the exact opposite. We were confident in our new CEO, Tim Cook, and excited about the future and what we could contribute to the world. In many ways, after years of unheralded success and popularity (from the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad), we felt that we were just scratching the surface of what we could do. We were more focused than ever.
The greatest thing Steve Jobs built was not the iPod, or the Macintosh, or even the iPhone. It was Apple, the company. He created a culture and standard of excellence within the company where all you wanted to do as an employee was to do great work. That began with hiring. He made sure that he hired the best at the top, and trusted that it would trickle down through the organization. Hiring is so important to Apple that we put a premium on employee referrals (top dollar for every engineer you help get hired), and you can pretty much forget about doing a cold application for an open position you find online. It’s like throwing your resume into a black hole. The result is that you are surrounded with brilliant people that are passionate and committed to “putting a dent on the universe.” It’s contagious and, more often than not, your work becomes your life’s work. Collaboration is so important to Apple culture that we’re building our new campus to foster and encourage this behavior. It’s essentially shaped like a large donut, where the chances of you bumping into someone with the next biggest idea is more likely to happen than when employees are siloed in different buildings.
For now, our current campus is located smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley, surrounded by other tech giants like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and dozens of startups. Yet people still forget how long the company has been around (with presence in Cupertino dating back to 1977), and are continually surprised that we don’t have ping pong tables, graffitied walls, and colorful lounge chairs. By all accounts, Apple is an old school company and, in many ways, still runs like a good old American corporation. And no, our cafeteria food is not free. One great perk, though, is every now and then there is a company get-together on campus where free flowing beer and finger food is served. And because we do run iTunes—the biggest online music store in the world—we get to invite musical artists as entertainment during these get-togethers. So, it’s pretty neat when, let’s say on a Wednesday afternoon, we get to drink wine in plastic cups while listening to Maroon 5 or Pharrell play their latest hits.
Secrecy, as you know, is integral to Apple. That is how we stay relevant and how we stay competitive. Trying to keep our secrets secret is a full time job, and we have many teams that try to stay on top of that. Depending on your position in the company, you are strictly on a need-to-know basis. There are many doors that lead into many rooms that are restricted to a lot of our employees. If you happen to be granted access to a room where items on tables are covered in black shrouds, that’s intentional. You do not need to see what’s under them. When you ask an Apple employee working at the retail stores when the new iPhone is coming out and they say “I don’t know,” they really don’t know. We’ve never been this focused on secrecy about what we’re doing—and yet we’re also more “open” than ever now. Under Tim Cook’s stewardship, the company has done an about-face of sorts. We’ve been more open with media and allow more of our leadership team to shine in the spotlight. We’re in more magazine articles, granting more on-screen interviews, focusing on charitable causes and pioneering ways a big corporation can reduce carbon footprint and save the environment. This is clearly Cook’s Apple, but Jobs’s DNA still runs deep within the company. In fact, before his death, the company created “Apple University” as part of a succession plan to prepare Apple for life after Jobs. It was a program to teach future leaders of the company to learn from our past mistakes and successes.
It still blows my mind when I go to the cafeteria to have lunch and I bump into Tim Cook or Jony Ive. A co-worker once approached Ive and told him he was a big fan. Ive shook his hand and promptly asked him, “What is your favorite product?” My co-worker didn’t know what to say.
Apple is now one of the biggest—if not the biggest—company in the world, but the foundation that Jobs has built has kept us grounded throughout these years. This singular focus and attention to detail are lessons he taught us to help the company tune out the unnecessary and concentrate on doing what we feel is right.ν