If any Apple sales people have shared the inner workings of Apple with you, you probably know the answer to this question. If you are someone who has fallen in love with Apple's shiny products and their carefully crafted image, you would probably guess wrong.
This summer will mark ten years since I left Apple, and I still have some wonderful memories about the people that I worked with at Apple. At the same time, there is plenty about my last three or four years there that I would like to forget.
To give a quick answer to my question, I do not miss working at Apple. While there is no doubt the money is better than what I manage to make today, I would not trade my life of today for a career at Apple. What you have to do to survive at Apple is not worth what it does to you.
What follows are a few thoughts gleaned from my nearly twenty years at Apple. For more, you can read my book, The Pomme Company. I will close this post with some brief thoughts on why my life today is better than it was when I worked for perhaps the world's most famous company.
There are things which I watched happen at Apple which still trouble me. It is easier to say that from the clear perspective of someone who has long ago departed the distortion field that seems to blanket Apple. Leaving a job at Apple often results in some haunting memories once you have enough distance to figure out what was actually happening while you worked at Apple. When you are actually at Apple, you end up in a self-protective mode that encourages you to ignore the Apple world around you.
I had a long conversation with a current Apple employee the other day. He has come to believe that you almost have to give up your soul to stay at Apple. I have long thought that true and was not surprised to hear him voice that view.
Not only did I see unfortunate things happen when I was at Apple, I was a participant. There were many times during my career that I got on airplane on a Sunday, flew to an airport and called an employee on Sunday night and asked them to meet me the next morning. They knew immediately what was about to happen. They were going to lose their job the next day.
For the most part these were good, hard-working employees dedicated to making Apple successful. Did I fight to keep some Apple employees over the years? Of course, but there is a real limit to what you can do at Apple and perhaps any company without losing your own job. People are keenly aware of that at Apple and fall into the mode of just turning their head when an employee is let go even if they know in their hearts it never should have happened.
It goes far beyond that. When you have been shown the door at Apple, many employees shun you and pretend that you never existed. One of the best examples is when I published my book, The Pomme Company. I wanted to use a photo taken eleven years earlier, the night my federal team won the award as the top business sales team. Like a good author, I asked each person for permission to use their picture in the book.
Three of the five then current Apple employees were afraid to have their picture in the book. I had to edit the picture so their images were unrecognizable. I hired these people, tirelessly worked to get them promotions and stock options, fought finance to make sure they were paid correctly, and stood up for them when things were not going well. Some worked with me for a number of years. Despite that history with them at Apple, the only thought they had when I asked for their permission to use a picture taken eleven years earlier was that you have to protect your Apple job at all costs no matter what the consequence. It is a good insight into the way that the majority but not all of Apple employees think.
When I first went into sales, I can remember hearing that sales people are the last to be laid off when things get tough for a company. That was never the case at Apple. The sales group was always a favorite Apple target in layoffs. Part of it came from Steve Jobs' fundamental belief that sales people were at best a necessary evil and far more likely an unnecessary expense.
I am proud to have worked in sales most of my life. I have definite opinions on how to do sales right and I am proud of the help I have provided to clients in their efforts to make the right purchase decisions. Many of those clients that I met over the years became good friends. I talk with them more often than I do most of my former colleagues at Apple. That I never embraced Apple's hostile view of sales people might in itself be one key reason that I am no longer at Apple.
Apple like many large companies is not fond of dissent, but Apple takes it several steps further. It is ironic that the company which made the famous 1984 commerical has demanded lemming-like loyalty from its own employees for many years.
Perhaps the part of Apple that troubles me most is that many people think Apple is the ultimate expression of the American dream. If you are bright, work hard, do your job beyond expectations, you will be successful. It is a great theory, it just is not the way that Apple works.
Apple is not about rewarding success, it is more about allocating blame. If something does not go according to the numbers on an Excel spreadsheet that comes from Apple's finance department, there will be hell to pay somewhere in Apple. Apple is more about money than any product.
Apple was that way when I was there and by all reports the company has not changed. I have heard the stories out of Apple too many times about top sales people getting fired because they missed their number. That might sound like a reasonable thing, firing a sales person because they cannot sell what they were supposed to sell, but the devil is in the details.
Most really good sales people have a long career of great sales results to their credit. While money is important to them, doing better than anyone else who is selling the same thing is really what drives them. If they are really good at sales, they are never willing to accept anything less than the best from themselves. Yet in any sales career, especially if you are dependent on very large customers, there will be times when your customer through no fault of your own decides for whatever reason to not buy as much as they did the previous year.
Apple management subscribes to the theory that there is no excuse for not selling what they thought you should be able to sell. That would be nice if sales were actually predictable by Apple's finance people. Over the years Apple's finance folks have shown an amazing ability to not understand what is going on in their sales force, how their large customers might react to product changes, or even correctly calculating what the sales people have actually sold and should be paid. It is common to punish Apple sales people when they do not make their number.
Apple sales people have been blamed for not doing their jobs when the only problem was that the company could not ship any product for them to sell.
While a great company might have true leaders that would protect their people in such a situation, Apple is full of micro-managers whose only thought is telling their bosses what they want to hear and blaming someone else for their inability to solve any problems standing in the way of their teams.
Apple really is a toxic mixture of good people being at the whim of things they cannot control. That explains why good people at Apple just accept whatever happens without a peep. Unexplainable, illogical things happen with such regularity, that you work hard at divorcing yourself from situations where most conscientious employees might speak up. As an Apple employee in the midst of seeing good people shown the door, you console yourself with thoughts that there is nothing you can or should do. Doing nothing even extends to providing minimal comfort at terrible times to people who were your friends and colleagues before Apple showed them the door.
There are a lot of other things that have changed for the worse at Apple over the years, but this is as close as I can come to describing the real situation at Apple. Certainly I have raised issues about Apple in other forums and while sometimes those words get twisted because most Internet reporters care more about speed than accuracy, I have said more than enough to make it clear that Apple has no attraction for me.
Life outside of Apple is remarkable first and foremost because I no longer have to continually watch my back or worry that the only way for me to win is for you to lose. I live in a beautiful natural world where I might not get exactly the results that I want, but at least I know my hard work is respected and that I can sleep at night because I have treated others as they should be treated.
You can read more about my life outside of Apple in this post, Living the Dream. If you want to see some of the scenery that inspires me on a daily basis, check out my new $2.99 Kindle book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year. For more on my other books, head to this page.