The power of Apple's culture

Apple isn't Apple because of its technology. The thing that makes Apple is its employee base, which fervently believes in the company's direction and right to win.

I spent much of yesterday down at Apple, and while it's no secret that I'm an Apple fan, even I was surprised by how enlightening the experience was. Apple is not Apple because of its technology. Apple is Apple because of the fervor with which its employees believe in the corporate mission.

That fervor was evident in abundance as I ate in the cafeteria, as I walked the halls, and even in the lobby.

Every employee carries an iPhone (except for one of my contacts there, who gave his to his wife :-). Every employee has a MacBook/Pro. And every employee seems ecstatic to be doing so (quite a bit different from what my own experience with the Linux desktop at my old employer and at other Linux desktop companies, where some (though by no means all) employees felt that they were doing the right thing, but not what they would prefer). Not every view of Apple is as rosy, of course, but I think the broadbrush characterization fits.

You get the same corporate feeling at Red Hat. Ditto for Microsoft. Extreme ditto for Google. People believe in these employers. And, if Mike Olson is any indication, Oracle has the same general feeling.

These companies are winners. They are winners because, first and foremost, their employees fundamentally believe in their products and the companies' mission.

You can't buy that allegiance. You earn it.

Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, each of these companies is helmed by strong, opinionated leaders. While I don't think you need an obnoxious loudmouth as a CEO to earn employee loyalty, I do think you need a CEO with persistent, almost evangelical vision. It can be a quiet vision, but everyone should know it so that they can rally around the flag, or leave.

Apple's campus is a fortress. The people within believe that they are doing The Right Thing, and that they will win. Sometimes such fervid belief can be blinding - just ask any NetWare engineer (most will tell you that their product is/was superior, and most will conveniently overlook that the market stopped caring some time ago). You could also ask Apple engineers at certain points in the company's history, when self-belief became blinding.

Still, passion for one's company is arguably a prerequisite for any company that wants to dominate its market. Walking the halls of Apple yesterday, it has that in spades.

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Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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