Apple’s corporate omerta and share price growth

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At lunchtime, I was reading “Steve Jobs: The man who polished Apple,” a most excellent feature about Steve Jobs and Apple written by Times journalist Bryan Appleyard and published in the Times Online (and probably in the newspaper itself as well).

While there’s copious biographical, anecdotal and other information about Steve Jobs and Apple almost anywhere you care to look, to me Appleyard’s feature presents some absorbing information in a way that’s new to me, and makes for compelling reading.

And while it’s a fascinating picture of the narcissistic Jobs, what really focused my attention were a few explicit paragraphs about Apple itself:

[…] Apple Inc is worth around $140 billion. But is it worth anything without Jobs? It is a company formed around his personality and inspiration. It is also the most watched, envied, admired and adored company in the world. So how, you may wonder, was it possible for Jobs to put out such a statement four months before a liver transplant? And how was it possible for consumer capitalism’s greatest hero to pull off the Memphis Liver Caper in absolute secrecy?

The answer is that, along with computers, iPhones and iPods, secrecy is one of Apple’s signature products. A cult of corporate omerta – the mafia code of silence – is ruthlessly enforced, with employees sacked for leaks and careless talk. Executives feed deliberate misinformation into one part of the company so that any leak can be traced back to its source. Workers on sensitive projects have to pass through many layers of security. Once at their desks or benches, they are monitored by cameras and they must cover up devices with black cloaks and turn on red warning lights when they are uncovered. “The secrecy is beyond fastidious and is in fact insultingly petty and political,” says one employee on the anonymous corporate reporting site Glassdoor.com, “and often is an impediment to actually getting one’s work done.”

Here’s a chart showing Apple’s share price over the year to date:

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If I were an investor in Apple, I wouldn’t be too unhappy. For the moment.

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