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Tim Cook, Changing The Culture At Apple

by: Mark Reschke | Aug 18, 2014

Tim Cook: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

In his latest support of all-things-for-the-social-good, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, took the Ice Bucket Challenge at Apple’s fundraising bash to fight ALS during the company’s diversity week. Cook became CEO of Apple in 2011, and over the course of his reign he has had a major impact on the culture of the Cupertino company.

Steve Jobs was rarely that interested in his employees, rather, he was on the prowl for amazing talent and he worked to bring them, or keep them, at Apple with large financial incentives. The corporate culture under Jobs contained a bit of fear, layered with massive secrecy. Only a sparse few would say it as fun working at Apple, rather, it was certainly a challenge and the products spoke for themselves. Jobs mode of operation wasn't bad, it certainly brought results, but Cook has moved the culture miles away from Jobs approach.

A colleague of mine who worked at Apple in the late-90’s explained to me that the worst thing that could happen to you was to end up in a one-on-one with Steve Jobs. Depending on his mood, Jobs may ask “In 10 words or less explain how you bring value to Apple.” If Jobs found the answer to be inadequate, he was known to fire the employee on the spot. It was known as the “never get in an elevator alone with Steve Jobs” situation.

Firmly established at the helm of Apple, Cook has installed a different culture within the company, and it couldn’t come at a better time. With anti-poaching practices flaring up once more, Apple is likely to keep their talent staying put in the hotly contested employee market of Silicon Valley.

Cook’s swift but subtle moves to change the atmosphere within Apple has made an impact. His first bold move came only months after taking the CEO role, creating Apple’s Double the Donation charity matching. Any employee could donate any amount to the charities of their choice, and Apple would match up to $10,000 annually. It was a stunning display of corporate charity. Based on Jobs history, it is likely to be a policy Steve Jobs would never have imagined, let alone implemented. The message was simple: the leadership at Apple cares about important social issues, but most importantly, the social issues that are important to its employees. Today's Apple cares about what matters to its workforce.

Cook fired then head of iOS and OS X development Scott Forestall and V.P. of Retail, John Browett. In an interview with BusinessWeek Cook explained he wanted a collaborative culture within Apple. Steve Jobs combative style of leadership, which Forstall thrived under, was no longer welcome in Cupertino.

Continuing his employee focus, Cook implemented project “Blue Sky” allowing engineering teams to focus on pet project programs for three weeks at a time, above and beyond the deadline items. In addition, corporate employees can now enjoy product discounts in parallel to their retail store counterparts. Cook’s focus on employees goes beyond the U.S. boarders and its own employees, demanding better working conditions and safety practices for workers within their Asian suppliers and contract manufacturers. Cook has also continued to push ever-more environmentally friendly products and recycling programs.

This week Apple released a diversity report, and held a fundraiser to stop ALS, with Cook participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Is the corporate culture at Apple different when compared to Steve Jobs leadership? Do Apple employees appreciate Cook and company? Watching this video clip answers those questions with a resounding yes.

But will a more socially conscious, employee friendly and increasingly perk-laiden company be able to create amazing products and break open new markets? Cook has demonstrated he can effectively lead and gain a loyal following, but “does Apple still have it?” This is still the biggest question lurking around the Cupertino campus. Tim Cook has publicly prepared the world for new products and at least one new market defining product coming in 2014. Answers to whether Tim Cook’s new corporate culture can translate into dominating new products and markets will be answered in a few short months. We can’t wait. 

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