Apple's Corporate Culture: 10 Lessons for Staying in Steve Jobs' Good Graces

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-08-10

Apple's Corporate Culture: 10 Lessons for Staying in Steve Jobs' Good Graces

The announcement that Apple Senior Vice President Mark Papermaster left Apple sent shockwaves through the tech industry. Papermaster came to Apple from IBM after the companies waged a short-lived battle over exactly when he could start working at the hardware company.

After that, he took over the iPhone and iPod Touch and, at least to outsiders, did a fine job of delivering products that consumers wanted. His departure from Apple was very much a surprise. 

But it didn't take long for some details and speculation about the reasons for Papermaster's departure from anonymous sources to make their way into news reports. One claim made by the Wall Street Journal stood out. The publication said that its sources claimed Papermaster didn't match well with Apple's corporate culture. And as those problems persisted, Steve Jobs started losing faith in his ability to lead the mobile devices division.  

Admittedly, the Wall Street Journal's report has not been confirmed by Apple or Papermaster, so it's impossible to say why he really left. But the source's claim of cultural incompatibility seems to be something that some employees suffer from at Apple. And that's unfortunate because Jobs has created one of the most distinct corporate cultures in the business. Here is what makes Apple's corporate culture so unique. 

1. Focus on design 

The first thing that every employee must remember about Apple is that the company cares more about the design of products than any other firm in the market. Unlike Microsoft, which has historically done a poor job of creating aesthetically pleasing products, Apple really gets design. It understands what consumers want, it knows how to meet those desires, and it sets out to beat any and all expectations. It's not always easy, but Apple seems to get it right every time. If an employee doesn't help the company do that, he might end up with another company sooner than he thinks. 

2. Believe in Jobs 

Apple is an interesting firm. Its corporate culture extends beyond its employees to its consumers. So, what it expects from its employees, it also expects from its customers. One of the most important things it expects is for both stakeholders to believe in Steve Jobs. Over the past decade, Jobs has been Apple's savior. He has helped the company revive its aging business model, innovate beyond all expectations and deliver some of the better products on the market. Sometimes, that belief in Jobs can go too far, as evidenced by the most recent iPhone antenna debacle, but for the most part, believing in Steve Jobs has been good for Apple and good for both employees and consumers. 

3. Forget everything that came before it 

When employees come to Apple, they are expected to immediately do one thing: forget everything they ever knew about the technology world. Apple does everything differently. Whether it's the design of products, how it goes about devising ideas for new products or simply the way it carries itself, everything is different at Apple. To pretend like something is similar to a past employer is a mistake that could cause more trouble than it's worth. Apple is different. 

4. Believe Apple is better than all others 

Apple has an ego unlike any other company in the space. Whereas Microsoft always believes that the other shoe is about to drop, Apple believes that it can stop the shoe from ever falling. Part of that is due to Steve Jobs' ego. He believes that his company is the best in the world and it should carry itself that way. Apple haters can't stand that, but it has become a call to arms for all of the company's lovers and employees. 

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5. Take flaws to heart 

Because of its ego, Apple takes it to heart when it hears people criticize its products. In true Apple fashion, it responds with a level of venom that most other companies in the industry can't muster. After all, what other firm in the space could have taken an antenna issue as bad as the iPhone 4's and turned it on the competition without thinking twice? Apple doesn't like being told that it's wrong. And both its employees and its fans are expected to dislike it, as well. 

6. Never admit defeat 

Part of Apple's allure is its desire to never admit defeat. No matter how badly its products are getting beaten, the company seems to find a way to pull itself out of the fire with one last shot to save the day. Nowhere is that more evident than in the computing market. With the right strategies, Steve Jobs turned things around after making more than a few controversial (and risky) decisions that paid off. Today, Apple is setting record profits. There is nothing that Steve Jobs hates more than to see a competitor beat his company. Perhaps that's why Google's gains in the mobile market are so galling to the CEO. 

7. Remember attention to detail 

If Apple understands anything, it's that attention to detail pays off in the long run. Google's Android operating system, for example, might be selling well, but after using the software for a while and comparing it to iOS, most consumers will find that it lacks some of the flashiness of iOS. That doesn't make it any less useful-in fact, it's arguably just as useful as iOS-but it does leave some consumers wondering why Google didn't go the extra mile. In most cases, Apple goes that extra mile. It has become a staple of the company's vision. And it's something that it expects from its employees. 

8. Only Steve Jobs is indispensable 

If Papermaster's departure is any indication of how Apple is run, it's clear that only Steve Jobs is indispensable. What other company, cultural differences or not, would be willing to see the person who has helped the world's most recognizable smartphone succeed beyond most expectations leave without any remorse? It goes back to Steve Jobs' ego. He ostensibly believes that he is the key to Apple's success. Apple lovers and some employees might agree, but Papermaster was also integral to the success of the iPhone. Who Apple will get to run the iPhone team as effectively as Papermaster did is anyone's guess. But perhaps it doesn't matter. Apple has proved once again that only Steve Jobs' job is safe at the company. 

9. Secrecy reigns supreme 

A discussion on Apple's corporate culture isn't complete without mentioning its penchant for secrecy. Unlike so many other tech firms in the space, Apple's upcoming updates rarely get leaked. In fact, it took a mistake by one employee for the world to find out about the iPhone 4 before it was announced. Perhaps that's why Apple has had a long-standing rule that secrecy will govern success at the company. People who leak the firm's secrets, even accidentally, will almost certainly find themselves being escorted out the front door by security. 

10. Domination is everything 

Steve Jobs has one goal in mind when it comes to technology: domination. He doesn't simply want to beat the competition in the all the markets his company competes in, he wants to destroy them. He wants to make it clear to the world that his company can best them all. Steve Jobs has something to prove to the competition, customers and just about everyone else. And he expects his staff to help him achieve that. If they don't, they will find themselves working at Microsoft in no time.

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