I did not expect Apple's Tim Cook to testify before Congress that Apple has done anything but stick to the letter of the law. If any company has lots of lawyers on retainer, it is Apple. Yet Apple's billions in profits is something that might trouble those whose consciences are a little more attuned to the world beyond stockholders.
This horde of offshore cash is nothing new. When I was working for Apple as director of federal sales, the lobbyist who helped me get meetings with key government officials was also working to convince legislators that they should create a tax holiday for companies like Apple so that they would bring their billions home. That was an ongoing effort over ten years ago. Not having that cash in the US does not seem to have slowed the Apple steamroller.
It is not a bad thing that Apple and other companies make a lot of money. What I worry about is companies and Apple might be one of them who lose their way and can only think about adding to their corporate pile of cash. When I went to Apple in 1984, we talked about the Mac being the computer for the rest of us. Today Apple's computers are certainly targeted to those with the most disposable income. Those computers might have industry standard parts, but their margins are the envy of the rest of the tech world.
In Apple's case the obsession with money started somewhat through necessity. Apple in 1996 was dangerously close to going out of business.
While many people understand the story that Steve Jobs brought a passion for great products back to Apple, few appreciate how driven he was to be a success as a CEO and generate boat loads of money.
If creating a money making machine is your definition of success, then it is easy to say that Steve Jobs and the Apple executives who have followed him are the epitome of success.
While I would be tickled to figure out how to make money with a little less effort, I am not sure that I would want my legacy to be making more money than any human could spend or give away.
The profit on high tech devices has much to do with low cost factories in China that Apple, other tech companies, and those of us who use the products must shoulder as something we helped create. It is not a very pretty thought.
Beyond the money, large corporations and Apple is just one of them have become a strange world unto themselves. The corporation is the law of the land for those who work there.
I still know several people who work at Apple. While some at them have been at Apple many years, most of them fear Apple. Fear is not an easy companion during your workday.
You can get a taste of the world of Apple in this excerpt, The Strangest Nine Months of My Career at Apple from my book, The Pomme Company. Just because a company makes shiny products that millions love does not mean that it is a good corporate citizen for our country or even that it treats its employees well.
Part of me would like to believe that there is still a chance that companies like Apple can devote some of their resources to making our country a better place to live. That is perhaps the wishful thinking of someone who intentionally lives far from the corporate world.
It is a daunting challenge to let companies like Apple be successful and still hold them to more than just the letter of the law. It is almost written in stone that good CEOs have to jettison their conscience. That's actually a sad commentary on our society, but it is one of the reasons that I like living a different life here on the Carolina coast.
I will not be spending a lot of time worrying about the storm over Apple's offshore billions. We have a real tropical storm, Andrea, heading up the coast. That first tropical weather system of the season means a whole lot more to me.