They're at it again, and this time it's not about the evils of outsourcing or the un-Western factory conditions in Asia. It's not about workplace or boardroom diversity, e-book pricing, anti-competitive practices, the dearth of politically correct contributions, or any of the other myriad complaints left-wing activists have impotently lodged against the most successful company in America.
This time around, The New York Times is fomenting angst and dissatisfaction over Apple's practice of hiring young college graduates, paying them just above the prevailing retail market wage, while training, managing, and motivating them to deliver the best retail experience most customers ever have-and then making a ton of money selling insanely great products.
Can't you just feel the outrage? No? Me neither.
In a tedious screed titled, "Apple Stores' Army, Long on Loyalty But Short On Pay," the Times lays out its indictment. Apple makes more per square foot than any other retailer including Tiffany, yet it refuses to share the profits with the sales help. And did we mention that Apple's CEO makes a fortune?
Apple is wicked because it takes advantage of the fact that a lot of young people think it's cool to work there. Also, starting from the moment new trainees arrive, Apple weeds out the lazy, the rude, the tardy, the incompetent, those unable to cope with the pace, and any uninspired clock watchers motivated primarily by pay. The Times seems to find all of this deeply unfair.
As a result of these supposedly un-American practices, Apple's sales force is unusually young, single, and over-educated. Most look at the experience as a stopping off point after college rather than the ground floor of a new career.
A case in point was my own experience upgrading to a new iPad earlier this month. Much to my surprise, I was greeted at the front door by the daughter of an old MIT classmate of mine.
She was a freshly minted liberal arts graduate from a prestigious and highly selective university. I remember when she first arrived in Boston, full of excitement about the new vistas a first class education would offer. Now, $200,000 in daddy's dollars later, she took my order for a 32GB, Wi-Fi-only unit, black, as she lamented that what she really wants to do is TV production in New York City. Right. And I'd like to write for The Wall Street Journal.
One way or another, she won't be there long. The average sales associate only sticks around for two and a half years, short by most standards, though Apple seems untroubled by the turnover. While this increases training costs it has the fringe benefit of preventing the buildup of aging and surly employees who are tired of dealing with the public and have accumulated enough raises to price them out of the market. Contrast a visit to an Apple store with the kind of customer experience you get when you fly a legacy airline staffed with flight attendants who are sicker of flying than you are. Or a visit to the Motor Vehicle Bureau.
According to the Times, Apple's workplace practices are abominable. Employees are actually passionate about what they do, imbued with a sense of "working for the greater good." Management encourages an esprit de corps that generates an extraordinary degree of hustle, sometimes causing employees to miss breaks. The horror of it all.
The reader comments on the New York Times website are as amusing as the article. "Isn't the Grapes of Wrath required reading anymore?" writes one fellow traveler. Ma Joad, meet Steve Jobs. Both left legacies; guess to which one the Times relates? Another reader recommends a boycott. Voting with your feet does seem like an excellent way to express dissatisfaction, as evidenced by the Times' dwindling circulation. Meanwhile, Apple continues to set sales records.
It will be interesting to see whether this latest Apple shaming campaign gets any traction. Judging by past efforts, I wouldn't bet on it. If ever there was a teflon company, Apple is it. Maybe it's the once-venerable Old Gray Lady that needs to learn how to Think Different.