In Adam Lashinsky’s latest feature story on Fortune magazine’s new issue – available now on the iPad at $4.99 as single in-app purchase, and free for Fortune subscribers – the author reveals several unknown anecdotes about the company, internal management, and Steve Jobs. The story is full of interesting details for Apple fans and journalists, as well as little known facts about the personality of the CEO, Steve Jobs.
Lashinsky, for example, tells the story of the 2008 launch of the iPhone 3G and MobileMe, which didn’t go exactly well for Apple. MobileMe – a rebranded version of iTools and the .Mac service – promised to offer continuous web access to mail and calendars, as well as sync options for iPhones and iPod touches. The initial rollout, however, was affected by slow loading times and servers constantly down, which lead to speculation as to whether MobileMe was really ready for public release, with many questioning the premium fee Apple was asking for one-year usage of the service. In Fortune’s story, Lashinsky says Steve Jobs summoned the entire MobileMe team for a meeting at the company’s on-campus Town Hall, accusing everyone of “tarnishing Apple’s reputation.” He told the members of the team they “should hate each other for having let each other down”, and went on to name new executives on the spot to run the MobileMe team. A few excerpts from the article:
Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continues, “So why the f*** doesn’t it do that?
Jobs was also particularly angry about the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg not liking MobileMe:
Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us.
MobileMe went under major design changes in the past years, reliability improved and the service is now rumored to go under a complete facelift by the launch of iOS 5 with a new name, iCloud.
Lashinsky also mentions the speech Steve Jobs gives every time to a newly-appointed VP, which the author calls “Difference Between the Janitor and the Vice President.” The speech focuses on the distinction between “excuses” and “reasons”, and the amount of responsibility a VP has to handle in his every day job. When you become a VP you don’t have any excuse for your failures, and reasons stop mattering the moment you’re appointed.
Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn’t have a key. This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. Senior people do not. “When you’re the janitor,” Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, “reasons matter.” He continues: “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.” That “Rubicon,” he has said, “is crossed when you become a VP.
In his report – the result of hundreds of interviews with former Apple employees and people familiar with Apple’s culture – Lashinsky describes the creative process inside the company:
The creative process at Apple is one of constantly preparing someone – be it one’s boss, one’s boss’s boss, or oneself – for a presentation to Jobs. He’s a corporate dictator who makes every critical decision – and oodles of seemingly noncritical calls too, from the design of the shuttle buses that ferry employees to and from San Francisco to what food will be served in the cafeteria.
Other anecdotes from the story:
- Just two people wrote the code to convert Safari for the iPad
- At Apple there’s never confusion “as to who is responsible for what.” In Apple’s parlance, a DRI’s name (directly responsible individual) always appear on the agenda for a meeting, so that everyone knows who’s the right contact for a project
- Steve Jobs meets with executives on Mondays to review every important project. On Wednesdays, he holds a marketing and communications meeting
- Jobs’s approach to design and “feel” of a product is shared among the whole company, even if 90% of employees have never met Steve Jobs, Lashinsky writes
- Once a project is nearing completion, Apple spends whatever they need to make it perfect. For example, they contracted the London Symphony Orchestra to record the iMovie soundtracks; they sent a camera crew to Hawaii to film a demo video for a wedding scene; they even staged a fake wedding in a San Francisco church to get a different take on the video, with Apple employees playing guests
- The executive who runs the Apple online store has no control over the photographic material that goes on the website. Apple’s graphic arts department creates and chooses and photographs
- Steve Jobs hired dean of Yale School of Management Joel Podolny to run the Apple University, an internal group also featuring business professors and Harvard veterans that are writing a series of case studies to prepare employees for the life at Apple after Jobs. These case studies focus on Apple’s recent business decisions and internal culture, they are exclusive to employees and taught by top executives like Tim Cook and Ron Johnson
You can find Lashinsky’s “Inside Apple” in the latest issue of Fortune for iPad (the article will also be available online for free on Fortune’s website), and we highly recommend it as it’s a very interesting read and detailed take on Apple’s culture, Steve Jobs’ modus operandi and the way employees see the company from the inside. It includes several more details on the Top 100, a secret meeting for Steve Jobs’ top employees and executives the company holds annually in an undisclosed location to discuss business plans and unveil “important initiatives.” The meeting rooms are even checked to be swept for electronic bugs likely placed by “snooping competitors”.
You can download the Fortune app here, and download the latest issue with the full report at $4.99.
Update: “Inside Apple” is now available on Amazon as Kindle Edition – it’s undoubtedly the best way to get the full story (which includes several more details, facts and anecdotes than the ones summarized in this post) without purchasing the entire issue or subscribing to the magazine.