Wired recently ran an interesting article discussing how Apple’s (i.e. Steve’s) corporate ethos is just plain wrong on paper – and yet, somehow, Apple manages to do everything right these days.
According to the article, Steve-o runs Apple like an old-school tyrant. He redefines “hands-on management”, inspecting every minute product detail, and frequently reduces employees to tears. And whereas many modern companies – inspired by Japanese kaizen principles, no doubt – have embraced the idea of innovation coming from employees, at Apple innovation very much follows the old top-down model. With Steve Jobs at the top.
In a world where other IT companies are baring their souls to the world, publishing product roadmaps, and open-sourcing their code left, right and centre, Apple still keeps all its new goodies close to its chest – mainly for competitive reasons no doubt, but partly, I guess, to help create that aura and mystique that die-hard Apple fans love so much.
While Linux and Windows let you mix and match your hardware and software stacks, with Apple you’re very much locked into their hardware/software combo. I quite like this vertical integration in a way, as it reminds me of the “good old days” of home computing: the world of the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST, and Amiga. And there’s no doubt that it’s a major cause of the Mac’s general stability and slickness. Nevertheless, it’s slightly unsettling, as a user, to know that I can’t switch to another brand of hardware and carry on using my current OS and apps.
Wrong = right
And yet, despite the archaic corporate regime, “Fort Knox” style product development, and hardware/software lock-in, Apple has a huge market cap, the iPod still dominates the music player market, and iTunes is now the second biggest music retailer in the US. Mac OS has doubled its market share in the last five years, and Apple recently increased shipments faster than all other PC manufacturers. What’s more, Apple employees love working at the company.
So all is rosy at Apple, despite – or likely because of – the company doing everything “wrong”. And many – including the Wired article – argue that this apparent contradiction is all down to one man: the mighty Jobs. Apple’s direction, its personality, its entire ethos is built around him. Which raises the obvious question: What will happen to Apple when His Steveness retires?
Someone – I forget who – once quipped that a viable business is one that can still be run without its creator; its strategy and direction are not dictated by one single person. It’s arguable whether Apple, in its current form, would be able to carry on sans Steve. He made Apple what it is today. He practically is Apple now.
But then again – would Microsoft be the success it is today without Bill?
[I just realised I posted this on Apple's birthday. Complete coincidence, honest!]