Elon Musk has been widely hailed as the next Steve Jobs, and given how his company Tesla is performing, it’s all set to become the next Apple!
There have been a lot of high-level management changes at Apple over the past couple of years, most of which have been related to people leaving the company. There were murmurs that Apple might be losing its old glory. Core people have already started feeling a sense of disconnect with the company.
There’s no smoke without fire
These were just rumours, but they’re finding validity in the recent “brain-drain” Apple has been facing. The biggest blow to Apple in the past has been, perhaps, Chris Lattner. For those who haven’t heard of him, this is how Wired Magazine describes him:
” […] he’s a rock star among software engineers. As the guy who built Swift, Apple’s iPhone-centric programming language, he’s one of those coders that other coders put on a pedestal. He personifies Silicon Valley’s relentless push toward technology capable of changing the world.
“Now, he’s moving on, becoming the head of software engineering for Autopilot, the technology that’s transforming Tesla’s electric vehicles into autonomous vehicles. Apple’s innovation machine is losing another key cog to a company that has lured so many others away from the House That Jobs Built. And that provides an obvious storyline for the tech press and so many other Silicon Valley watchers: Tesla is the new Apple.”
Lattner isn’t the only one leaving Apple for Tesla. Here are other high-profile people who’ve changed camps over the past two years:
- Doug Field, Apple vice president of Mac engineering
- Rich Heley, director of alloy engineering at Apple
- Matt Casebolt, MacBook Air engineer
Many industry pundits associate these moves with a lack of intellectual fulfilment among the “most creative” at Apple. Steve Jobs brainchild, they say, has been stuck in the field of smartphones and tablets for far too long. Where Apple was once known for breaking new ground, exploring unchartered territories, and building industry disruptive tech, today it’s stuck in a battle of high stakes with Samsung (for hardware supremacy) and Google (for software supremacy).
And even that’s not a battle Apple is winning too convincingly. Tesla, on the other hand, is doing exactly what Apple did about a decade ago.
Contrary to popular understanding, Apple did not rise to fame by making new products. It was their innovation and vision that won them the crown. When other companies were trying to improve the portable music player; Apple built an entirely new product and gave the world the iPod. When they didn’t have the components to build their products, they took matters into their own hands and built the components themselves. They then went ahead and created entire ecosystems to support their devices.
But now, it has lost that fire. Today, Apple is stuck making things better, instead of making new products. That, in itself is not a bad thing, but there’s more to achieve. Tesla has wisened up to that and, in addition to improving existing products, they’re focusing on bringing ingenious creations to life.
That’s the reason Apple is losing top creative professionals to Tesla. They’re looking for a challenge, something that can give them creative fulfilment. For over a decade, The House That Jobs Built was that place, the crowd seems to be cheering on King Musk now.
The other side of the story
However, there’s also a counter-narrative to this:
iMore thinks that Apple does NOT have a “talent retention” problem.
In a recent post on iMore, author Rene Ritchie argues that “the Apple [talent] retention issue narrative isn’t new but it is something worth understanding.”
The article reasons that for an organisation the size of Apple, this amount of reshuffling of is as per the industry standard. Ritchie says:
“People leave Apple. People also come back to Apple. Some do that multiple times. Others simply move around inside the company, looking for the projects that interest and excite them the most. None of this should be the least bit surprising in a company Apple’s size and with people this talented.”
In a way, that makes sense. If we assume that 1-2% of employees leaving a company is the standard, then, for a company as large as Apple, 15-20 employees moving out might not be such a huge deal. However, this theory assumes that every employee is equal in worth, which we know is not true.
So if 15 of the low-grade engineers or designers are leaving Apple, that’s no big deal. But imagine if 15 people of the top management left Apple. Would the company survive the weekend? Possibly not.
Neil Cybart, in his Above Avalon newsletter, points out, quite succinctly, the duality of this conflict:
“Obviously, losing key people represents a risk for Apple. However, it is a risk for any company. There is no evidence to suggest Apple has an outsized employee retention problem compared to its peers. [That said] it is not a coincidence that when looking at many of Apple’s high-profile departures, the driving force often ends up being a desire for something different, chasing something that was not possible within Apple.”
Whatever the truth about Apple’s retention problem, one thing’s for sure – Elon Musk is doing a great job driving the creative passion at Tesla, and it’s showing in the results. The path for Tesla, and the fight for Apple is far from over, however, and it will make for a great battle as these two giants of innovation lock horns.
Whoever wins these battles, we’ll be just as happy, because, above all else, it will be a victory for innovation. Here’s to creating new things!