In the five months since his death, much ink has been spilled on the subject of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs and his contributions to the digital age. But far less is known about the future of his secretive company. Lashinsky, an editor-at-large for Fortune magazine, takes a stab at answering what has become a US$500 billion question—that’s what Apple’s market capitalization has just passed. He argues that, just as Jobs was a unique figure, Apple is an incredibly unusual company, even by Silicon Valley standards. It was the combination of the two that allowed Apple to seemingly defy the normal rules of business.
For one thing, Apple is not set up like a normal large corporation. “You know how many committees we have at Apple? Zero,” Jobs said during a 2010 interview. “We are organized like a startup.” In fact, the entire operation is overseen by a small group of key people, all of whom report directly to the CEO. This non-hierarchical structure kept Jobs—and now presumably keeps his replacement, former COO Tim Cook—involved in granular decisions about Apple’s relatively small number of products, everything from button design to packaging. Another neat Apple trick is to physically segregate employees from one another to create the illusion that they work for a much smaller operation.
It all led to some interesting paradoxes, according to Lashinsky. Apple is the world’s most valuable company, but consumers view it as an underdog. Its products are fun and whimsical, but are made by people with a reputation of being all work and no play. But as long as Jobs and his “reality distortion field” was around, nobody saw how the sausage got made. “Now that the curtain has been pulled back a little, we can see that real men and women are working furiously to keep things in motion,” Lashinsky writes, adding that the end result may be Apple’s transformation from an “insanely great” company to one that is merely “great.”