Oh, Apple, That Thing You Do (Part II)

"My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better. My job is to pull things together from different parts of the company and clear the ways and get the resources for the key projects. And to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better, coming up with more aggressive visions of how it could be."

-- Steve Jobs

No company with more than one employee is perfect. Changing companies often simply replaces one set of problems with another set. So if you're thinking about going to work for Apple, or even some other company, and you're wondering what's great about Apple, here's my Top Ten list, in no particular order, based on my tour of duty from roughly 2000 to 2005. (Last week, I covered the not-so-great things.)

The Great Stuff

1. Apple employees are well reimbursed for their business travel. One never feels that Apple is penny pinching to the point where business travel becomes a burden that detracts from the job at hand. Apple has a more enlightened approach here than most companies in that it realizes modern air travel is a living nightmare, time away from family is precious, and employees should communicate, eat and sleep well to get their job done. It's not lavish, but neither is it penny pinching to the point where one despises the travel department.

For personal reasons, I never charged Apple for wine with my meals, but Apple would have paid for it if I submitted a receipt. One glass with dinner is not really an exorbitant luxury after a tough day of flying or work.

Also, unlike some companies, Apple realizes that business travel is work, so you fly during business hours. When I was a Lockheed Martin, their philosophy was that you put in your eight hours first and then travelled on your own time at night. That was rough. And Lockheed Martin never paid for wine for dinner, being a high visibility government subcontractor.

2. Along those lines, Apple also has a world class business expense reporting system written in Java. You fire it up, enter your travel expense, scan and attach receipts, and submit the report to the server. An electronic approval system sends it to your manager. After approval, your reimbursement is electronically deposited to your checking account within a week. Other companies could learn a lot from Apple's travel expense system.

3. Apple employees are well compensated. I never, ever heard anyone at Apple think they were underpaid for their work. On the other hand, when asked how many hours a week one works, the answer is "all of them." No problem. The work is insanely fun and productive. And if you've worked over several weekends, Apple is true salaried job: your manager has the discretion to tell you to take a Friday, or even a few days, off. No paperwork, no time cards, no problem.

4. Apple has a first class IT department that manages its network. Every employee can fully expect at least 100 Mbps right to their desktop. Security is excellent, network problems are rare, and Apple believes that superb communications -- and a comfortable work environment -- are essential. Extraordinary high marks here.

I believe that Mr. Jobs has a hand in this. Many companies pinch pennies and have a half-a**ed network that always seems to have problems. At Apple, if an senior exec can't get something done quickly and smoothly on the network, someone gets fired immediately. That has a salutary effect on the quality of the Apple network infrastructure.

5. You manage your own UNIX computer. Each Apple employee is given a Mac to use for work. It's generally a pretty good one, and one generally has a choice. If one's job requires a lot of mobility, a MacBook Pro is the norm. Moreover, you are the administrator of your own computer and have root and admin privileges. No one controls and manages your computer for you. Apple assumes you know how to operate and maintain a Mac. No one at Apple ever needs to touch your Mac unless it's in for repair -- which is rare. Load it up, carry on, and if you get into a little trouble, the help desk is world class.

6. Apple has a world class Executive Briefing Center in Cupertino (and a few other major cities) that has won many awards and is often cited as the best in the world. There's a very specific methodology for preparing an executive briefing for important customers, corporate and government. The facilities are outrageously beautiful, fully equipped for audio/video and the Executive Briefing Center has experts that can brief a customer with skill and professionalism on any Apple technology. Apple vice presidents often attend and wow the customers.

After a day long event, Apple picks up the tab for dinner and fellowship with the customers. No one does this better than Apple, and if you've set up executive briefings like I have, you feel enormous pride in the company.

7. An enormous amount of site licensed software is maintained on Apple's internal servers. Recognizing that Apple employees might have to use or demonstrate high profile software from both Apple and third parties, there is a boatload of software, free for use so long as the person is employed by Apple. It's a great perquisite.

8. Also, Apple employees are often the beneficiaries of gifts from the company, such as free iPods or iPhones. After all, Apple doesn't want its employees pulling out a BlackBerry in front of a customer, but the point is that Apple can be very generous in this way. Even though they only have to pay the wholesale costs.

9. Superb Facilities. There is plenty of parking on campus. With some companies, parking is a problem. You might have to pay. You might have to walk a long way. You might have to arrive earlier than desired to get a spot at all. At Apple, there is generous parking at Infinite Loop, and the Cupertino weather is so nice, the walk from the car, often under a shady tree, to the lobby in the California sun is one that one wishes could go on and on. (Underground parking is also available for those who need it.)

Also, there's a great snack bar just off the 1 Infinite Loop lobby where one can buy coffee, soft drinks, pastries and fruit. Sitting in the rotunda with a snack -- with its huge glass walls and a view of the campus -- and talking Apple business with colleagues is an awesome experience.

10. Apple maintains for itself enormous freedom to act and likes to keep policies and bureaucracy to a minimum. When I worked for the government, it seemed like there was always some dumb, obligatory briefing to go to or some policy constraint that made life aggravating. Apple minimizes that so people can get their work done without too many diversions.

There was a time, in about 2003, when the field sales execs were given Ford Tauruses. Nice cars, but still Fords. One time, V.P. John Brandon was speaking to the field sales execs at a big sales meeting and, in the course of his talk, proudly mentioned that, compared to the PC companies, Apple sells premium products, not, for example (in a car analogy), a Ford Taurus. Promptly, one of the execs raised his hand and asked Mr. Brandon, "Sir, if that's true, then how come the field sales execs get Ford Tauruses?" Mr. Brandon promptly agreed, and within a few months, all the field sales execs who needed cars got new Chrysler 300s.

Such is life at Apple -- a company that earns a lot of money and uses some of it judiciously to make working there a world class experience.