Recently, Fortune Magazine named Apple the Most Admired Company among business leaders. Fortune stated that the criteria for this title included reputation, integrity, and trust. However, I think that when business leaders say they most admire Apple, they're not evaluating those factors. Rather, I suspect they vote for which company they're most envious of. More specifically, they vote for which CEO has the kind of mojo they wish they had.
There’s no doubt, if you're a business leader, Steve Jobs has to be one of the captains of industry that you're looking at right now, thinking to yourself, "What can I do to lead my company as effectively as this guy has led his?"
The problem is that the majority of business leaders aren't Steve Jobs. They're reading self-help books, learning 7 Habits and Six Sigma programs, swallowing frogs, and climbing peaks and valleys – all in an attempt to find some elusive magic to make them successful in business.
If I've discovered one thing in over a decade of employment by large, Fortune 500 companies, it’s that the higher up you go in a corporation, the less the executives in charge really understand about technology. In fact, a huge majority of these business leaders are probably among the most technologically illiterate and dangerous people in their organizations.
Now, while GM may be an example of the most grossly disconnected management in America today, Apple is certainly among the best. I'm not denying that. But what I am saying is that just because a bunch of mostly clueless, pointy-haired managers really like what Apple is doing, it doesn't mean that what Apple is doing is good, that Apple should be trusted, or that Apple’s integrity or reputation will continue to carry them forward in the future. All it means is that a lot of bosses wish their companies were doing as well as Apple — nothing more, and nothing less.
On the other hand, there’s a growing murmur of discontent among technology professionals about Apple. It’s always existed, and probably always will, but there’s been a noticeable uptick in the number of people in the tech industry who are growing more vocally concerned – and they're the same people who dogged and abandoned Microsoft years ago for alternatives like Apple.
Recently, Apple has displayed some hypocrisy, a willingness to put business realities ahead of lofty ideals they've espoused in the past. The company has grown so powerful that they've stoked fears about anti-competitive, anti-consumer behavior and their willingness to abuse that power.
Let’s face it — when Apple can arbitrarily remove an entire category of software from their app store, and that app store is the sole place you can legally acquire software for your device, that’s a tremendous amount of power. Apple can control their market, their advertising, and every granular detail of what kind of app is available to you and what it does – and by extension, it can dictate your morality, your philosophy, and how they think you should be using their devices.
This is especially troubling when followed with a string of patent lawsuits that are designed to give Apple a tremendous strategic advantage. Apple wants to become your single source of consumer electronics, plus content and media distribution and delivery, by virtue of limiting the desirability of other platforms through the technology experience they can deliver to you.
I’m sure there are a lot of consumers and even technology pros who don't see the problems here, but there are a lot of other folks who do. Of those, many consider it to be more than an ethical, moral, or ideological problem. They see it as a business model problem. I know I do.
When trust, integrity, and reputation are keystones to being awarded the Most Admired Company in Fortune Magazine, it’s important to note that these are the easiest qualities to erode away – and business executives are insulated and behind the curve on realizing public (not corporate) shifts in attitude.
Like many other tech professionals, I'm a little paranoid about my security and very wary about the possibility of "vendor lock in." This isn't something new or unique to Apple – it’s a long-standing concern in IT. Ultimately, the same worries that you have in the datacenter should apply to the computing device on your hip, coffee table, or the desk in your study.
So, while Apple and loyal Apple customers are busy patting themselves on the back for another win as “Most Admired Company,” it might be worth considering who has given that award and how meaningful it really is. The people in the industry who understand the most – the technology pros and gadget obsessed — are starting to get more and more concerned. If they had been given Fortune Magazine’s survey, Apple still might have won, but by a falling margin instead of growing one.
Do you agree? Are the gadget freaks and technology pros turning on Apple – and are they a better canary in the coalmine for Apple's future prestige than executive leaders at large corporations? Or will Apple continue to dominate and grow as an unstoppable juggernaut, redefining the way we interface with our personal electronics? Let me know in the feedback section.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.