15 fresh insights into how Apple runs its business

Senior Apple executives, including CEO Tim Cook, CDO Jonny Ive and Vice President Denise Young Smith, share how they run their business.

Apple, Tim Cook, enterprise, business management, product design, Jony Ive
Martyn Williams

Apple's most senior executives recently shared a few fresh details about how they run their business. Here are 15 recent observations.

Be intuitive

When Steve Jobs asked Tim Cook to join Apple, the Californian company was on the edge of collapse. Cook weighed the evidence, and it quite clearly told him not to take the job. “But my intuition was saying something different,” he said. Cook followed his hunch. He now leads the most successful tech company in the world.

Apple Chief Design Officer Jony Ive also agrees in the value of having a little faith. For example, when designing iPhone X, he recently admitted that for much of the design process, the technology to recognize faces didn’t work.

“You got to … know [a problem] can be solved,” he said. Though much of that resolve could be seen as coming down to “faith.”

Easy come, easy go

Cook warned startup entrepreneurs not to put their faith in venture capitalists.

“If a venture capitalist ever asks you about an exit plan, you should get up and leave the room,” he argues.

The idea is that you need supporters who will work with you for the long haul,not  push for an earlycash out.

Immigration is good

Cook has spoken up to argue against reactionary anti-immigrant steps. There’s a good reason why he does: As a global company, Apple wants to to attract the very best employees to its team. Intelligence is good for business. Rather than creating walls to such recruitment, the Apple CEO argues that business leaders should try to “monopolize the world’s talent.”

“I’d want every smart person coming to my country because smart people create jobs,” he says.

Diversity is everyone

Apple's vice president of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith, says this on diversity:

“Diversity is the human experience. I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT,” she says. The issue is “representation and mix.”

Coding as a second language

Apple wants the world to code. That’s why it supports big pro-coding initiatives. This isn’t just about persuading people to build apps using Swift (thought that’s an evident part of it). It's because as code becomes key to so many of our interactions, it is also becoming a way for the enterprise, like any individual, to express itself. “Creativity is in the front seat; technology is in the back seat,” Cook says.

Think difference

If you are launching a company, it is helpful to listen to voices outside of your own echo chamber. “Recruit the friends of yours who are not like you,” Cook says.

Engineering firms need input from liberal arts people, a U.S. firm needs to bring in people on board who have an international perspective. The common thread needs to be a shared desire to “change the world” by creating a product or service. “If you can find that collection of people … that is the kernel of a successful company,” Cook says.

Listen to your customers

Apple has famously always avoided focus groups when it comes to product design and development. The company’s position has always been that customers don’t necessarily know what they need until it is presented to them. Apple does listen to feedback — Cook spends an hour each day going through customer emails, and part of what Apple retail stores do is listen to and gather real feedback from real product users.

First is good, but best is better

“We don’t give a rat’s about being first. We want to be the best and give people a great experience,” Cook told The Independent. I’d argue this to be the product design equivalent of an old engineering adage, "Better is not necessarily better than best," and that’s why cutting-edge product design is more about thinking through implementation than racing to be first with a new "thing."

“Even if it is something you feel passionately about, focus means ignoring it,” says Ive.

Care counts

The central principle to product development at Apple is to build solutions that people at the company “want to use,” Cook says. The argument is that if you want to use it, others will do so, too.

A second point is to make sure those products are created with care. “I think we sense care in the same way we sense carelessness,” Ive told The New Yorker.

Change happens

Discussing iPhone X with Japanese fashion and design site Brutus Casa, Ive hinted that product design cannot stand still.

“We have a lot more big ideas, and we are already working on them. […] Rather than one ending of the iPhone, it is rather a new chapter and the beginning of its development,” he says.

Materials are precious

Today’s electronic devices are packed with incredibly rare raw materials. Apple’s approach to using those materials is best explained by Ive, who told The New Yorker that one reason why Apple puts lots of effort into internal component design is because “materials are precious, and if we are going to be a good responsible custodian of translating them from a raw material to a final product, they should be treated seriously.”

Think things through

Apple’s decision to introduce ARKit in iOS 11 is opening up new opportunities for developers, but work toward that end began several years ago. That’s why hundreds of millions of existing Apple products are already capable of supporting these tools. That took a lot of thought and effort. The company figured out how to provide both the tools and the market its developers needed to begin creating AR apps, then planned how to do so.

Be ruthless

One lesson Cook picked up from his old boss, Steve Jobs, is the need to be “ruthless” when choosing what to focus your energies on.

“You can only do a few things well,” he says. When a business professional tries to do too many things, they “will not do great work.”

Be nice

There are still some who run their businesses on the basis of fear. Cook doesn’t think that’s the best way to get the best out of any situation.

“Life would be so much easier if we just treated everybody with dignity and respect. You think about all the problems in the world — half of them would be solved with just that! Life would be so much better,” Cook says.

The CEO role has changed

Running a big business in the modern era isn’t all about revenues, profits and shareholders. Cook says company chiefs must be authentic and engaged with the world, arguing that most people are smart enough to respect CEOs that have principles, even if they disagree with them.

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