Getting to the core of Apple’s success
A friend of mine lives in Silicon Valley in the United States, and he introduced me to an engineer when I visited the area for a business trip last year. The interviewee had been working for Apple for years, and I was dying to hear his stories. The reporters who have ever covered Apple would understand my eagerness, as it is very hard to get a glimpse of Apple. Even the PR managers frequently say, “I don’t know about that” or “I cannot discuss the matter.” Fortunately, I could get a peek into Apple, with a condition that I would write about it much later.
He said, “Apple is like a drug dealers’ syndicate. At the orientation, we were constantly told not to snoop around. We don’t have social groups and only know the project you are involved in. Rules are very strict, so you don’t look people in the eyes when you run into them on the corridor. When you get too close to a coworker, it is more likely to make a mistake. There are so many urban legends. There was a rumor that an engineer attended a school event for his child, and another parent asked him what he did at Apple. He briefly responded, but he was fired soon. Probably, it actually happened.
Apple is also harsh on others. Especially when Steve Jobs thought someone had infringed an Apple property, full-blown attacks would begin. He would not care if the competitor goes bankrupt or its founder becomes penniless. Even the house would be under attachment. In short, he just cannot stand others.
The hierarchy among the job functions is very clear. The highest level is the industrial design, followed by marketing, software and then hardware. The design and function are determined first, and the engineers have to make them. What if we can’t? We will be killed. We are under tremendous stress, but we still manage to survive, not because of money but in order to see that product coming out to the market.”
I was quite surprised when I read the recently published “Inside Apple.” The stories I heard from the engineer were reiterated in the book, with far more vivid details. Just as Im Jeong-uk, the translator of the book and former Lycos CEO, said, Apple is a company that goes against all the modern management theories such as transparent management, power transfer and information sharing. But how can it accomplish such glorious status? The book highlights the power of the extraordinary genius in the name of Steve Jobs. He valued design, never compromised to make only the best product and created a culture where no one but the chief financial officer has to worry about profit and loss and the employees are free to say “no” to even brilliant ideas.
After all, there never was a model answer for leadership that guarantees success. In the end, only the passion and desire remain. Any leader, regardless of his style, is halfway to success if he can set fire to the hearts of the members.
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Na-ree