I have been reluctant to judge more controversial businesses as being authentic for a long time, but this week I want to argue the case for the authenticity of Apple and Google. If this is controversial then, perhaps, we will get a bit of discussion going through the comments on the blog.
Part of my intention has always been to demonstrate that authentic business and authentic leadership are simply better ways of doing business than the more conventional ways. Better for employees, better for customers and better for business.
Google and Apple are two of the most successful business of our time. When Steve Jobs announced his resignation as CEO, Apple was the largest company by market value.
But are they Authentic?
Firstly, authenticity is personal, it is what someone is genuinely passionate about and it may not be the same thing that you are genuinely passionate about. Are the influencers at Apple genuinely passionate about making the most useable technology products? Unquestionably yes. Are the influencers at Google passionate about search and making the worlds knowledge available and accessible? Again, unquestionably yes.
Secondly, do Google and Apple generate their profits as a by product of the pursuit of their respective purpose? Again, I would say yes. If you look at the history of both companies they are littered with examples of times when they have gone against the wishes of the financial community in the pursuit of their purpose. Google continue to invest in extraordinary projects to make the worlds knowledge accessible. Driving Street View in to the Amazon would appear to have marginal financial returns, but does make another bit of knowledge more accessible than before. Reportedly Apple have a cash pile of around $78 billion and growing. The financial community would love to see them spend some of that cash on buying up other companies, but Apple refuses. Apple never makes large acquisitions that could impact the culture negatively, they only occasionally make carefully targeted small acquisitions, that can help them fulfill their purpose.
Thirdly, don’t believe a lot of the negative stuff that you read. Much of the analysis of both companies comes from a business media perspective that is dominated by the more conventional profit driven approach. When you come from this approach, it is impossible to see a different one. When these journalists and analysts look at Apple and Google they are looking through the same lens they use to evaluate Exxon and News Corp. Additionally, both companies do things that are controversial, as Steve Jobs has said, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, especially when you are that big. Apple’s manufacturing in China and Googles digitizing of books are examples, but these stories are also spun up by their many business rivals who are flummoxed by trying to compete with the power of authenticity.
For me, these businesses are clearly authentic and inspiring examples of the commercial benefits of authenticity. How can other businesses learn from them?
1 – Focus – be really clear what you want to achieve, what you have a whole-hearted energy for. Articulate it clearly and find collaborators with whom you are aligned.
2 – With the end in mind, define a culture to deliver it and hire brilliant, world class people, aligned with your purpose to deliver it. Never compromise the culture, it is what defines the brand and the authenticity of the business. Google have a super selective hiring process with every new hire still being signed off by founder Larry Page. Culture is defined by the people you hire, if someone does not fit, they need to move on for everyones sake.
3 – Apply good business discipline well. Authenticity is not a get out of jail free card. If you spend more than you earn you will go bust, authentic or not. Make something that is truly valuable for your customers and the world, make it with passion. The more value you can create for your customers, the more profit you will be able to create from it.
4 – Sweat the details. It is really, really worth getting things right. It can be attractive to just get things out, but mistakes are expensive in cash and brand terms. The less you make the more successful you will be.
We are applying all of these principles to setting up Civilised Money. Our vision is to create a new type of financial services company, which generates profits through enriching people. We are authentically focussed on this vision as the greatest service we (the founders) can provide to society. We have defined the culture we believe is best suited to achieving this vision and are hiring world class people to help us deliver it. Although our model is unconventional our business discipline will be tight and that will help us deliver outstanding value to customers and significant profits. Although it can feel slow, we are thinking through the details carefully to avoid compromises and mistakes.
We can all do this, whatever the scale of our business and whatever our line of business, with a few exceptions, it is more how we do it than what we do. Equally it can also be applied to existing businesses – Steve Jobs did it when he came back to Apple – it is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.
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