How Apple has been handling the COVID-19 pandemic – Tim Cook
I think a lot of people have been reading about (and writing about) Apple’s financial results as a business results story, but I’ve not seen any attempt to report them as a business resilience tale, even though Apple took time to explain exactly this.
I thought I’d try to even out that imbalance.
These challenging times
Speaking during the Q4FY2020 financial call, Apple CEO Tim Cook made extensive references to Apple’s approach to the pandemic, which he says has generated strategic, procedural and extensive human change across the organization:
“Back in April, I said we were in the most challenging environment in which Apple as a company has ever operated,” he began.
“That atmosphere of uncertainty, of resolve, of making difficult calls with limited information, has not only come to define Apple’s year but each of our lives as individuals across this country and around the world. It has been a chapter that none of us will forget.”
During the call, Cook talked about how the company configured its power and its efforts around two poles:
- To maintain business as normal.
- To contribute to wider society as the world battles COVID-19.
Stay foolish, stay focused
“In the face of these challenges, Apple stayed relentlessly focused on what we do best, seeing in every obstacle an opportunity to do something new, something creative, something better on behalf of our customers,” said Cook.
Cook also pushed the COVID-19 as an opportunity argument:
“When we first began to grapple with COVID-19, I said there are worse things for a company whose business is innovation than having to periodically do just about everything in an entirely new way, he said.
He also talked about how Apple itself had to transform its own internal business. It had to reimagine every part of its innovation process – it even had to figure out a new online approach to conferences and launch events.
“Working from kitchen tables and bedrooms, in distanced office settings and reworked labs and manufacturing facilities, the team rebuilt every part of the plane while it was mid-air, and the results speak for themselves,” he said.
The company has attempted to embrace these problems at every level of its operation, from product design to retail and everything in between.
Innovation is a mind-set
“Innovation isn’t just about what you make, it’s about how you approach problems, and these teams and every team across Apple have not faced a single question this year that they haven’t found an answer to with passion and resolve,” he said.
“Their actions didn’t just meet the moment; they will make us a better company moving forward. The pandemic has hit home for all of us, and at Apple, we have seen it as a call to action.”
He also took time to stress the human. Discussing pain in communities, he looked at the challenges children face in remote learning and the uncertainty that we all face.
“This quarter and throughout the year, our response to this crisis has been to ask, how can we help? In terms of COVID-19 response, that has meant sourcing and donating millions of face masks, designing and manufacturing millions of face shields and scaling the production of millions of test kits.”
Mend the gap
Apple is clearly switched onto the wider societal gaps that have been made so deeply apparent during the crisis.
In response, it has pledged millions to its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative and made a commitment to be fully carbon-neutral by 2030 and continues to develop solutions for education and make efforts around that.
Ultimately, companies are run by humans and Cook made sure to mention the impact of the virus on the humans that comprises the company and its customers.
“Those of us who wake up every day hoping for a return to normal can count ourselves fortunate,” he said.
“Others don’t have that luxury.
“There is the great pain of a lost loved one, the uncertainty and fear of a lost job, a deep well of concern for people we care about who we are not able to see.”
He described it as being obvious that teams and colleagues are “leaning on and counting on” one another more than before.
“I think that instinct, that resilience has been an essential part of how we have navigated this year. Work can’t solve for all the things we’re missing right now, but a shared sense of purpose goes a long way.
Remember the human
“A belief that we can do more together than we can alone, that people of goodwill, driven by creativity and passion and that certain itch of a big idea, can still do things that help other people in our own small way to teach, to learn, to create or just to relax at a time like this.
“Even as the things we make require us to operate at the very cutting edge of technology, in materials, products and ideas that didn’t exist just a few years ago, this year has forced us to face plainly the things that make us human: disease, resilience and hope.
“You never wish for a year like this one, but I couldn’t be prouder of the team, the work we have done and the small role we have played in helping our communities find hope and resilience in this time.”
So, is there a take-away?
Of course: Enterprises that want to navigate this pandemic effectively need to do the following quite simple – though not necessarily inexpensive – things:
- Remember the humans in your company, protect them.
- Remember the humans in your wider community, do what you can for them.
- Remember the humans that make your market, and offer support to them.
- Remember rules can be broken and don’t be scared to do so to bring your business forward.
- Remember your company reflects your world, and you can’t build one while destroying the other.
- Stay hungry, stay foolish, keep going.
- Even Apple’s Human Interface guidelines mean nothing without humans to use them.
Good luck this winter, everyone. And have a great summer in the other hemisphere.