A Raw Look Inside Apple's Company Culture
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Apple Inc.? Macbooks,
iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch, Steve Jobs, black turtlenecks, Silicon Valley – probably
in that exact order.
When co-founder Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985 after losing to the company’s
then-CEO John Sculley in a long and exhausting power struggle, little did he know
that not only he will be back, but that his lifelong dream would one day become
known as “the world’s most valuable company”*.
(*On October 31st 2021, Microsoft surpassed Apple’s market cap and became the world’s most valuable public company.)
In just one year, Apple has won five awards from Comparably – a platform designed to provide culture and compensation data for public and private companies -, including Best Product & Design Team 2021, Best Engineering Team 2021, Best Places to Work in the Bay Area 2021, Best Global Culture 2021 and Best Company Outlook 2021. Hence, it is safe to say that the company has been known for its groundbreaking technology and revolutionary ideas for several decades now – but does this innovative approach apply to their corporate philosophy as well?
The forbidden Apple - a tech giant’s well-kept secret
Apple’s ever growing obsession with keeping confidential information within their company’s walls is a well-known phenomenon among its Silicon Valley peers, and has been a crucial part of the company’s organisational culture since the very beginning. In fact, Apple’s secretive corporate culture can be traced back to Steve Jobs, the co founder and late CEO of Apple himself.
Jobs had initially designed and built a system based on absolute secrecy, in which the left hand is prevented from knowing what the right hand is doing. Employees from different departments are debarred from discussing even the smallest and most insignificant details related to their personal projects, and – as impossible as it may sound – not even senior engineers are allowed to know what their final products will be like until the day of the official launch.
The level of secrecy surrounding Apple’s internal processes is incredibly, if not insanely high: according to Adam Lashinsky’s book Inside Apple, employees of the company are constantly being monitored while working on new products and must undergo various security procedures in order for Apple to minimise the risk of a possible leakage of confidential information within and outside of the organisation.
Each and every person is responsible solely for their own piece of the puzzle, and communication is normally one directional with little to no chance of any kind of transparency.
According to different sources, it is not uncommon for Apple to build physical barriers either – by suddenly frosting windows or putting up walls overnight – in order to keep their upcoming products under cover for as long as humanly possible.
The Steve Jobs era
In a Quora thread dedicated to unveiling the truth on what it is really like to be working at Apple, some of the answers date back to the Steve Jobs era (1976-2011).
One particular comment from 11 years ago states that the company benefits were less than ideal back then: employees needed to pay for their snacks from the vending machines and for using the gym, and the overall perks of working for Apple did hardly match those you would expect if you work for one of the world’s leading
Allegedly, Jobs’ response to the original poster’s complaint was “It is my job to make your stock go up so you can afford these things”.
According to Ken Rosen, former member of NeXT and Apple management, things were quite different in the beginning.
Jobs’ next project that he took on after leaving Apple in 1975 was NeXT Inc., a computer and software company where transparency and transparent communication played an important role.
Employees were granted access to a binder containing their salaries and Jobs’ door was always open to everyone. This well-balanced and transparent culture, however, quickly changed when Jobs returned to Apple, where the company’s newly designed secrecy culture affected not only Apple workers but their families as well.
At one point in his book, Adam Lashinsky describes Apple as “different from any other company I’ve witnessed. It’s more like a security agency, I’ve met a former employee of NSA who said that it sounded a lot to him like the way the NSA operates.”
Tim Cook’s company culture - A sneak peek into the future of Apple
Apple’s secretive corporate culture is generally used to minimise theft of any confidential information or intellectual property, and is part of the company’s management strategies. It also enables Apple to stay ahead of its competitors including Google, Samsung, Intel, IBM and many others by strengthening its leading position.
However, certain practices that were considered standard for Apple up until just a few years ago, could no longer serve Apple’s company’s company culture today. In
September 2021, current CEO Tim Cook finally addressed the concerns of current and former Apple employees in an all-staff meeting, following complaints of a highly toxic work environment and the general lack of internal policy within the company.
Workers have seemed to finally raise their voices against years of professional misconduct, and their allegations included cases of sexual harassment, retaliation, verbal abuse and discrimination. Many of them believe that it was Apple’s exaggerated secrecy policy that created an imbalanced company culture that discourages employees from speaking out or addressing their concerns.
It seems this tech giant still has some work to do on it’s company culture, and there are many lessons you can learn from its journey.
Dive deeper into Apple’s company culture, including workplace benefits, values, and culture stories in the eBook – The Ultimate Examples of Company Culture.