Lashinsky is the Senior Editor at Large of Fortune magazine. I sat with him Friday in Davos, as the annual meeting was heading into its second-to-last night.
“Don’t read my book at the exclusion of Walter Isaacson’s biography about Steve Jobs,” said Lashinsky, who had nothing but praise for the book now known simply as the “Jobs biography.” But he was quick to note that it was only the picture Jobs and Apple wanted readers to see.
“You get what you expect from an authorized biography,” said Lashinsky, referring to the fact that Isaacson’s book, unlike his, was authorized by Jobs and Apple. “I quote people by name in the book whom I expect neither Steve Jobs nor Walter Isaacson have even heard of, in addition to a lot of people that they would have heard of.”
Reading Lashinsky’s book, many readers have come away thinking Apple is a difficult, siloed and paranoid work environment. Lashinsky says that’s not the whole picture. But he sees his description of Apple’s inner workings as somewhat of a Rorschach test for readers, although he repeats in his book the joke he says Apple employees say amongst themselves: Everybody on the outside wants in, and everybody on the inside wants out.
“I don’t think of Apple as being this horrible place to work, but many people do,” Lashinsky said. “I think of it as being incredibly demanding, it’s a work-oriented workplace, it’s not a play-oriented workplace ... there’re no bean bags and lava lamps” as there are at Google.
“It’s not for everyone,” he continued, “you’re expected to check your ego at the door.”
And, once you do, the company is reminiscent of an authoritarian regime, of sorts, with everyone working for “the greater good and glory of Apple.”
In this model, multitasking is not a work style of choice, and the most senior executive is incredibly involved in the design, engineering and marketing of new products. It is a model where the bottom line is almost an afterthought, and the creation of dog food you want to eat is the goal.
It’s this business model — one that is almost entirely opposite of the more free-wheeling trend in Silicon Valley — that lies at the center of Lashinsky’s book — not Steve Jobs.
“I think every company could benefit from some of the things that Apple does,” Lashinsky said, “most companies are not very clear and precise about what their messaging is, and Apple is great at that.”
Apple’s singular, company-wide focus is also a unique characteristic others may consider adopting. As far as emulating Apple’s workplace culture, that may or may not be doable, said Lashinsky. Apple, after all, hasn’t seen a slump since Steve Jobs’ return. And it’s those slumps that force companies to reorganize their business model — a test Apple has yet to face in what Lashinsky calls its “modern era” — the period following Jobs’ return to the then-failing company.
Another Apple advantage was the fact that the company does not have a subsidiary approach to its business model, unlike a GE or other traditional companies. “Steve Jobs ran [Apple] as one company,” said Lashinsky, a trait that has, so far, seemed to serve it well.
Asked if he was applying some aspects of the Apple model to his own management style, Lashinsky said he was, where applicable. “We don’t always communicate with one voice, and I can see that,” said Lashinsky of Fortune’s partnership with CNN on the joint venture CNN Money. “I should probably leave it at that.”
As for the future of Apple, Lashinsky expects few changes to the existing company model, and he sees that Apple has shown a willingness to adapt while acknowledging its size. “It will be imperative that they enter a new industry,” he said, “each of their great legs up have been entering a whole new segment. I have no doubt that they are going to do that again.
But it’s critical that they do. Their business model is predicated on that, and I don’t see that changing.”