February 23, 2012

The iFactory

Recent months have been profitable and uncomfortable for Apple Computer.

In the shadow of record iPhone and iPad sales, fair labor and human rights groups have taken aim at the company and its suppliers for how it treats those who manufacture the works of art.

The critics successfully hurled accusations of low wages, unsafe working conditions and issues with some workers committing suicide at the China factories.  They made Apple flinch.

Facing pressure from its customers, the media and elected leaders, Apple opted to move towards transparency, opening the doors to ABC News Nightline Anchor Bill Weir.

The “unprecedented” tour of the Foxconn factory where the Apple iPads and iPhones are created was very interesting.  Though 20 minutes hardly seemed long enough to really “tell” the story, the show provided a glimpse into the factories that have generated so many products and so much controversy.

Would this kind of tour have seen the light of day if Steve Jobs was still alive? That is a question that has been debated at many levels.  My guess is, probably not.

Three key takeaways to how Apple handled this simmering crisis:

1)   While it was a difficult program to watch, Apple was able to position itself as the owner of the intellectual property while introducing FoxConn as the manufacturer.

2)   Apple did well by inviting a respected program to tour its facility “no holds barred”; having a gaggle of media would not have been easily controlled.

3)   Apple was available for this piece, their PR move of not granting any on camera interviews for the story (referring Bill Weir to statements made at an investors meeting) was risky but smart.

The news media story and third party audit of its Foxconn supplier is a good transparent move.

1 Comment

  • Tom, agree.

    Also, I just provided info to WXYZ-TV, Detroit, about an underlying subject: Where jobs go?

    The anchor was appreciative to know that Apple continues to make huge investments in the United States. Some investments are understandably “quiet” for business reasons, e.g., the huge, new data center in N. Carolina. The Mothership / Campus 2 space-age, Pentagon-sized project in Cupertino, Calif., however, is a historic investment in the American technology sector. Tens of thousands of jobs are involved, yes, but the innovation that will be required both during and after construction will spin out entire new U.S. businesses.

    [ People can follow Apple Campus 2 here: http://www.cupertino.org/index.aspx?page=1107 ]

    Finally, the news station was amazed to hear how hard Apple recruits his own state’s students, especially at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor – successfully, too. Apple just hired my U-M son. That is a proud disclosure, but he’s not the only one getting recruited.

    That Apple continues to hire Michigan talent was pleasant news to him, and he tweeted so. That Silicon Valley (including Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter) is actively hiring more U.S. talent is great news. It’s also creating a wave of new U.S. entrepreneurs nationwide – from California to Colorado to Massachusetts. Check out the tech job boards.

    And this new talent will need PR pros, too…and marketing, accounting, planning…

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