TAIPEI – If you haven't seen the video of Steve Jobs presenting plans for a new Apple headquarters to the city officials pf Cupertino, Calif., go watch it. It is a local-boy-makes-good story of corporate success and culture done right.
It also fails to tell a few other important lessons about the darker sides of corporate culture and other Silicon Valley giants.
The new headquarters, slated for completion in 2015, is something Jobs said he hopes architecture students come visit as an example of what's possible. It is the company's credo of excellence written large in curved glass. It says "Think Different" big enough to read from Google Maps.
The landscaping plan calls for apricot trees, hearkening back to the orchards of this area before it became Silicon Valley. Jobs also tipped his hat to Hewlett and Packard who gave him—at 13—his first summer job, as well as some components for his hobby building gadgets.
It's ironic Jobs actually bought the land from HP which is consolidating its space in Cupertino and that the news of the headquarters comes the same week a market researcher says Apple--not HP—is now the world's largest buyer of semiconductors.
The circle of the new Apple building symbolizes a kind of wholeness, a corporate soul. Jobs has imprinted it deeply on his second-in-command Tim Cook and others. By contrast, HP has lost the HP Way of Hewlett and Packard in an series of professional managers navigating a company that now builds everything from smartphones to supercomputers.
The good news is Hewlett-Packard's DNA lives on in thousands of engineers who work to make a contribution and executives who "manage by walking around." They spread those values every day to companies in all corners of the electronics industry.
The rest of the story of Apple's corporate culture is about employees at their desks after midnight in Cupertino. It's about managers who spend most of their lives flying to and from factory cities in China where employees work long hours and live far from home. It's about stress and bad work/life balance.
It's not always this way and not in all groups, but it is frequently the case. The lesson here is the power of the corporation is sometimes stronger than the power of family.
The subtext of the convivial Cupertino city meeting is worth noting. Big corporations like Apple have the real power here.
City governments are lucky to have the big tax payers building pretty buildings and planting lots of trees—so they better not get in the way. Jobs' veiled threat of moving to Mountain View showed the knives under the smiles. The power of the corporation is often stronger than the local government.
Cupertino is indeed honored to have a world-class company like Apple. But it is not an unmixed honor.