I Return to the Mother Ship

By Carole Burns


This week I was in Cupertino, California home of the Apple headquarters. While the buzz around the iPad is still fresh in the consumers mind the main offices of Apple go about their daily business as if nothing huge had just happened. The past decade has truly been formed by the fruit-named equipment all beginning with ‘i’.  In fact, it is difficult to remember a time when music had to be placed on cassette and then carried around in a tape deck. Early on in my now 25 year old marriage my husband had purchased me a walkman and I thought I had hit the peak of technology. I look back at the clunky device that I had to carry as I ran and realize how far we have come in such a short time.

But the Apple story is much greater than that—it is more than the cutting-edge technology we have all come to require in our daily lives.  It is about a company that truly cares about its employees. While the secrets held within the many security level doors may be what the consumer wants—it is the atmosphere of the organization that I most impressed me. The grounds of each of the offices are immaculately landscaped.

The employees were mostly friendly, with the exception of the one receptionist that was not too happy I had stopped to ask directions. They did not appear to be stressed out or unhappy. I thought of a few of my associates that would fit in perfectly here—Mykl (Novak) and Scott (Feldstein) would be in their paradise! It probably isn’t surprising that not too many of the employees I encountered were over the age of 50—but then again, I did only visit a few of the multi-mile campus.

To put this in perspective, in the mid 1980’s I was a programmer for a local financial institution.  I remember how the senior systems analyst resembled chimneys during the day. Their straw-like hair and bloodshot eyes told of endless hours pouring over code and compiler reports. They had aged before my eyes as deadline upon deadline loomed. Now, sitting in a company based on computer technology innovation I did not see any correlation between my past and this present.  Here was a group of over 200 people in the cafeteria—not a one looked stressed. Members of the staff walked, rode skateboards and roller bladed between buildings.

This could be the key to the companies huge success…caring for the employees. The company has created an employee-centric environment. The cafeteria is subsidized to keep out of pocket cost low. Shuttles are provided to move from one building to the next.  Employees that commute to work do so in a company provided coach bus, complete with WiFi at no cost to the employee. Those that choose to drive benefit from free parking, yet the lots are no where near full.

Now, most of you may find this next bit the biggest surprise—there was not a suit to be seen in the entire workforce. With the exception of the security guards who wore the traditional cotton black slack and white dress shirt. Even Steve Jobs himself (yes, he eats in the employee cafeteria and sat 2 tables down from me) was wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and blue over shirt. How refreshing.

Steve Jobs walked past me as I sat waiting for my class to start the afternoon session. I wanted to jump up and tell him how impressed I was with the care he takes with his employees—but I didn’t. He needs his space too. It is surprising that he didn’t have security around him, just a lone employee walking by his side. He even had his name badge clipped to his pocket (which is how I confirmed his identity) as if Steve Jobs needs to prove his identity to enter any of the buildings. But he obviously does not see himself as any different from the next person.

So, I believe these are the keys to success—employees that are happy, valued and made to feel a part of each and every achievement the company makes. They want the company to do well, because they are the company.

Carole J. Burns is the Director of the Wakerly Technology Training Center at Marquette University. Follow her on Twitter @burnsy1217.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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