Apple's Post-Jobs Shift From Innovation to Ethicality
The death of Steve Jobs would mark a sharp transition in the history of the Apple Company. Driven by innovation under the visionary CEO's watch, Apple would nonetheless be the subject of criticism for its negative ethical performance in areas such as labor rights and environmental compliance. Jobs untimely death would bring new CEO Tim Cook into the office under intense pressure both to maintain the company's high product development standards and to alter its decidedly lesser ethical standards. This discussion considers the ethical flaws which persisted under Jobs and some of the steps taken by Cook to alter Apple's troubled ethical reputation.
Section I. General description of the enterprise and its environment
Apple has enjoyed a reputation as a progressive and ethical company largely on the strength of its image is a cutting edge technology company whose products are used and enjoyed by progressively minded consumers. Indeed, Apple has established itself as a technology firm with a clear grasp on the wants, needs and expectations of its buying public. However, evidence suggests that its image as a pointedly ethical corporation may not be deserved and that the vaunted talents of its recently deceased CEO Steve Jobs may also have overshadowed his pointedly unethical tendencies as a business partner, leader and employer.
As the research hereafter will suggest, Apple has begun work on restoring its image as a high performer in the area of corporate ethics even as it attempts to stifle concern over its lack of direction and innovation without the late visionary CEO. Indeed, while Jobs will be shown to have maintained a habitually unethical sense of how to achieve success in the business world, evidence also suggests that his methods helped to make Apple the unparalleled success that it has become. This would be true both in terms of its product offerings and its public image.
Today, there may be a correlation between the increased scrutiny facing its product output and that concerning its ethical performance. In the research conducted here on the Managerial Functions in place at Apple, we will attempt to identify the defining ethical characteristics of Apple both during and after Steve Jobs' tenure as the company's CEO. In particular, the discussion will focus on the degree to which Jobs would trade ethical turpitude for innovation and profitability. This will be contrasted from the orientation sought by his predecessor, Tim Cook. In Apple's current CEO, the company has a strong leader with an excellent reputation of innovation in supply chain management but with less of a visionary leadership style than Jobs. That said, the discussion will show that Cook has channeled his role as steward not just into shifting the focus of the company's business strategy but also to driving it toward much needed improvements as an ethically performing corporate citizen.
Section II. Description of managerial functions
While Apple's greatest strengths were couched in the reputation of their leader, so too were their greatest weaknesses. Jobs governed the company with an unwavering philosophy of planning for the next stage of technology development. Most of the company's projected opportunities would center on achieving greater market-share and profitability by offering intuitive products with rapidly advancing capabilities. Just as Jobs would draw his plans around these capabilities, his company would exclude from consideration the way that its ethical performance might impact its reputation. Therefore, historically absent from its business plan would be matters of importance such as planning for the protection of labor rights, adherence to evolving environmental standards and the creation of opportunities for stockholders. However, in all of these regards, circumstances appear to be shifting under Cook.
The new CEO has unveiled plans to reverse many of the worst performance indicators in the evaluation of the company's ethical track record. According to Arthur (2013), "the overarching theme for Cook v Jobs is that Cook is trying to show a softer side of Apple," says Horace Dediu, who runs the Asymco consultancy. "He seems to be willing to put a gentle and less recalcitrant face on the company. All these things, even dividends, are signals that Apple is kinder, gentler. However, it's early days. Every new manager wants to place his mark on the company and distance himself from the predecessor." (Arthur, p. 1)
It is thus that the company has begun to develop a set of strategic plans which would position Apple to enjoy an improved reputation as an exemplary corporate citizen.
Issues of Organization are particularly problematic in a discussion on Apple's ethical performance. This is because its organizational strategy borrows heavily from the more generally exploitive tendencies present in the global marketplace. The tendency of Apple to organize its production operations around low-cost labor in overseas manufacturing centers is among the most difficult habits to break. As reported in the text by Sethi (2012), one of Jobs' worst legacies would be the sharp contrast between its treatment of its customers and its employees. While the innovations spearheaded by the company seemed to be organized around the expectations of the former, they are achieved on the backs of the latter. According to Sethi, "when it comes to customers, Apple is a bold innovator that leads the industry into new directions and forces others to follow. However, when it comes to the management of its supply chain and treatment of workers in the Chinese factories that make its products, it hides behind the constraints of prevailing industry practices. What is even more disconcerting is the fact that these practices are in violation of not only local and national laws, but also of Apple's own voluntary self-imposed code of conduct." (Sethi, p. 1)
Fortunately, while the company has not always protected this code of conduct under Jobs, evidence suggests that it is working harder to do so under Cook. With increasingly vocal protest from the global community, the new CEO has begun to open up its overseas labor operations to the oversight of watchdog groups. According to Hawthorne (2012), organizational improvements have begun to take hold since the change in leadership. Hawthorne reports that Cook "may be starting to get the message. Apple published the Fair Labor report on its Chinese factory, and its Greenpeace score has improved." (Hawthorne, p. 1)
As the subsequent section will show, these organizational changes are made possible by a general change in the tone of leadership under Cook.
Leadership is one of the greatest concerns at Apple today, largely because the figure of Steve Jobs is so towering and dominant in our impression of the company. This is because the presence or absence of Jobs over the past several decades has appeared to be a fairly useful predictor of the company's general success. As the article by Fung (2013) indicates, industry observers have expressed doubt that the company can rebound from this momentous loss. To this end, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was recently reported as predicting that Apple is now destined for failure without its innovative leader. According to Fung, "Ellison gives voice to a consensus that Jobs and Apple were synonymous, if not symbiotic. History, according to Ellison, appears to bear that out. When Jobs was fired by then-CEO John Sculley, his departure sent Apple into a funk that only Jobs' return could fix." (p. 1)
Part of Jobs' leadership success seemed to be encapsulated in his oversight of most of Apple's greatest product innovations. Concern has been expressed from many corners of the industry that current CEO Tim Cook may not be up to the task of retaining the company's considerably high innovation standard. As the article by Poletti (2013) indicates, the release of its iPhones 5C and 5S would be especially disappoint from both a product innovation standard and an economic performance standard. Poletti reports that "investors have driven Apple's AAPL +0.04% shares down more than 10% since last week's event at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters, where the two new smartphones were unveiled to the world. The iPhone 5C seemed an especially odd move, considering the company wrapped an existing iPhone (the 5) in plastic in a supposed low-cost effort to appeal to emerging markets, while keeping the price too high to really accomplish that goal." (Poletti, p. 1)
Some theorists suggest that the current leadership orientation is a conscientious departure from that which previously guided Apple's corporate decisions. Contrary to the era of innovation which preceded this one, Apple seems to be set on treading water today as it struggles to meet the expectations of its shareholders. According to Poletti, "It has slowed down,' said Laurence Balter, chief market strategist at Oracle Investment Research, when asked about innovation at Apple. He said the company seems to be in a different operating mode at the moment, trying to satisfy shareholders. 'The debt offering was a little pacifier for the little babies on Wall Street,' he said." (p. 1)
While this is a disturbing trend for consumers who have become accustomed to the dizzying pace…