Electronic Design

Apple Tops The Charts Again

It already sits at the top of just about everyone's "cool factor" chart as a world leader in understanding the power of physical design and ease of use. And now, Apple has been named Electronic Design's Best Employer of 2007.

The company, which began as Apple Computer, has expanded its product line over the last few years, boosting its revenues, employees, and prestige. The highly anticipated iPhone won't be released until June, but the "Cult of Mac" blog posted in late March that the new device already is partly responsible for a major change in the perception of Apple.

Research firm iSuppli gave Apple a perfect 10 in "design influence" in 2006 and 2005. This measures not only the number of designs developed by the company, but also how much semiconductor purchasing results from these designs. In addition, Business Week named Apple the top company in its Top 100 Most Innovative Companies in 2006, placing it ahead of Google. Furthermore, Apple ranks seventh on Fortune's Top 20 Most Admired Companies.

Apple's "must have" products, like the iPod and iPhone, catapulted the company to the elite among retailers in the United States. In 2004, the company topped $1 billion in annual sales faster than any retailer in history—and it did so by selling a steady stream of its own products.

Talk to some employees, and you'd think there's no better place to work than Apple. "Funny, brilliant, relaxed co-workers and modern, spacious, beautiful offices filled with comfortable couches and huge picture windows make work time a pleasure," said one employee on Apple's site on Vault, which conducts online workplace surveys.

The work culture is very laid back. Managers usually set work schedules, which vary by department. In some cases, employees come and go as they please. Telecommuting also is allowed with management approval.

While many employees admit Apple has changed over the past 10 years, many insiders stay put. One senior hardware engineer, who worked in Cupertino from late 1999 to the end of 2004, said on Vault that he was "surrounded by a lot of energetic people and experienced no end to challenges and cool projects. However, there was no end to the hours."

Another engineer who left the company said he liked the casual dress code and the diversity in most working groups. "There were good opportunities for advancement in the lower levels, but a major blockade at management levels. I would not have traded the experience for anything, but I can't imagine going back at this point in my career, with limited opportunities for career growth and rewards."

"There's a passion for products and attention to the most minute details," posted a Mac specialist who also briefly worked at Apple. "Many of the people working at \[Apple\] stores, particularly if they're full time and/or middle management, have no sense of humor, and political correctness is obsessive."

With input from Apple, Wikipedia says Apple's corporate culture resembles other very successful companies founded in the 1970s, those that bucked tradition in terms of organizational hierarchy. It compares Apple to Southwest Airlines and Microsoft— an attitude influenced by the company's founders, who often walked around the office barefoot, even after Apple became a Fortune 500 company.

By the time Apple broadcast its still-famous "1984" TV commercial, this trait had become a key way the company differentiated itself from its competitors. And as Apple's original character changed along with its top management, it retained a reputation for innovation that pulled talented people into the company. It even recognizes its most extraordinary technical talent through its Apple Fellows program.

Founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Apple now has nearly 18,000 full-time employees. Its sales grew by 39% in 2006, with staff expanding by 20% to support that growth. Of the $19 billion in sales, about $7.4 billion came from Macintosh computers and about $7.7 billion from iPods, a relatively new line of products. Mac OS, iPod, Quick Time, Logic Pro, and iPhone are household words.

Like most large industry companies, Apple's employee "uppers" include stock and product discounts, substantial vacation time, fee-based health care, training courses, brown-bag lunches with execs, and casual dress on the job. But according to reports filed with Vault, its downers include long work days.

Finally, Apple did fairly well in winning patents in 2006. It received 106 U.S. patents during the year, partly a result of the company increasing its R&D spending by 33%, or $177 million.

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