Apple’s culture has invaded the business world and had a powerful impact. As a supremely successful company that has risen above strife to become a market leader, competitors look to Apple for inspiration, adopting its practices to improve their own companies.
The other reason so many follow Apple’s example is because there are a slew of Apple "graduates," who, like me have taken its culture and strategies to new companies. Apple’s innovation, and its eventual success, led to its playbook being adopted by myriad other corporations—and for good reason.
Apple Without Jobs
I was the director of music and entertainment markets at Apple from May 1987 until December 1997, during the time Steve Jobs was away. His absence was felt, specifically via the lack of a cooperative brand of leadership—and it wasn’t easy. Fortunately, Jobs had created a strong company culture, and this maintained our vision during his absence. This meant working with the very best and brightest, people who wholeheartedly bought into the "dreamers and believers" vision, determined to stay true to both the products and the clients.
The advantage of Steve’s absence was that Apple employees had more autonomy. We mounted ambitious campaigns and created dramatic product launches. During the "50% margin days," the new leadership wined and dined us. We had Friday beer bashes, and we held team-building retreats in exotic locales periodically.
That’s not to say that Steve’s absence was a luxurious walk in the park. It’s true that Apple was compartmentalized under Steve, but people cooperated across division lines. Steve led the company with a blend of specialization and teamwork. During his absence, there was infighting among divisions, and the leadership decidedly did not encourage cooperation. With constant reorganization and leaders who suffered from Apple culture shock, it’s no wonder the stock eventually dropped. No one was making decisions at a time when decisions were desperately needed. The leadership gap was palpable, yet the culture remained intact.
I insisted on crossing division lines to maintain the spirit of cooperation Steve had started, confident he’d return someday. My charge during all of this was to drive music and entertainment initiatives. Luckily for me, the Macintosh was designed to help foster creativity at its outset, making it perfect for professionals in the entertainment industry. They loved it, and in less than a decade, the Macintosh became an indispensable partner to filmmakers and musicians.
Apple encouraged its clients’ artistic pursuits, and we launched "Apple Masters," a program that brought high-profile leaders in the entertainment industry to directly contribute to Apple’s creative development. Celebrities like Harrison Ford, Michael Crichton, Bryan Adams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Terry Gilliam became Apple consultants, so to speak.
We brought in some of these high-profile luminaries so employees could see the creative difference they were making, and so consumers would be inspired. I remember Mötley Crüe, in particular, because they didn’t just come to perform for employees at the Apple campus. They wanted to stand behind our products; they loved the Macintosh and showed us how it was helping them. It was a gesture of appreciation, and it was very memorable.
At this point in Apple’s history, my division was more focused on professionals than consumers, yet many of us felt it was time to connect the products more directly with consumers. My personal vision was to attempt a consumer-facing push around music, a precursor to iTunes. Unfortunately, my vision was not shared by upper management.
When Steve came back, he had to make quick, harsh decisions to save the company. He was ruthless when determining what would be best for Apple in the long run. He knew that Apple needed to focus on publishing and education long enough to stabilize the company, so, ironically, he cut the music and entertainment group, among others.
The Core of Apple Culture
When my class graduated from the Apple employees’ MBA program, John Sculley told us that we "would be each other’s biggest advocates throughout the Valley." At the time, none of us could comprehend why our CEO would suggest we wouldn’t be at Apple forever. But, of course, many of us have moved on and shared Apple’s culture, as it’s become a part of our DNA.
Here are just a few of Apple’s universally acclaimed and adopted practices:
It doesn’t come from the top down. Whether you’re a team member or a leader, you must answer for your actions internally. This accountability breeds a relationship with the public; they expect to be treated exceptionally, and they are.
•Hire the best
While many corporations specifically hire management who can wear many hats, Apple has insisted on specialization from the get-go. Apple seeks out employees who are experts, yet who also have the capacity to work as part of a cross-functional team.
Especially relevant in the tech industry, Apple’s consistency has lent a simple elegance to every one of its products. No user manual is needed; their products are simple, intuitive, and engaging.
•Excellence above revenues
Apple excellence has relied heavily on not merely realizing what the consumer wants, but predicting what he will want. Apple doesn’t see revenue as its primary goal. The team knows if they back the consumer from beginning to end, revenue will naturally follow.
•Treat employees well
Treat your employees well and they’ll stay on your team, even when other companies try to lure them away. Apple was one of the first companies to pioneer telecommuting and nap rooms, the latter having been adopted by the likes of Google and The Huffington Post. Companies can also offer in-company continuing education programs or provide salary allowances for such programs.
Apple culture runs so strongly and deeply that I could start working there again tomorrow, without feeling I’d missed a beat. There’s no question the business world has changed because of Apple. It transformed itself from a company that had to reinvent itself to merely survive to one that’s so successful that other companies around the globe look to it for guidance and innovation.
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Kelli Richards is the CEO of The All Access Group. Her latest book is "The Magic & Moxie of Apple: An Insider’s View."
[Image: Flickr user Stephen Groeneveld]