In an effort to keep Apple thriving even in his absence, Steve Jobs a few years back initiated a new program dubbed Apple University. The initiative aims to teach Apple executives the mind set that makes Apple, well, Apple.
Led by the former dean of Yale’s Business School, Joel Podolny, the University seeks to crystallize and imbue employees to make decisions that would likely align with what Steve Jobs might have decided. Relying on the case study method, University caliber classes are offered to executives wherein an in-depth examination of some of Apple’s most important business decisions are studied while also focusing on the employees who made them.
Permeating through the case studies are some of the rubrics that Jobs felt were most important to Apple’s success and its ability to innovate. These include accountability, attention to detail, perfectionism, simplicity, and secrecy. The courses synthesize these tenets with the aforementioned case studies to determine how they “translate into business strategies and operating practices.”
The LA Times reports:
“Steve was looking to his legacy. The idea was to take what is unique about Apple and create a forum that can impart that DNA to future generations of Apple employees,” said a former Apple executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve his relationship with the company. “No other company has a university charged with probing so deeply into the roots of what makes the company so successful.”
Jobs, in essence, sought to create an environment where executives, armed with the knowledge of Apple’s historical business acumen, would be able to internalize important business strategies and keep Apple’s momentum from waning under new leadership.
Jobs interest in a corporate university was first piqued during his time at Pixar where the company ran a professional development program that offered employees a swath of courses in areas as diverse as management, filmmaking and the fine arts.
As for Podolny, he made tremendous strides in improving the MBA program at Yale after taking on the role in 2005 but chose to leave for Apple in 2009, enticed by the idea of working for Jobs, someone he viewed as a modern day Edison.
But in 2008, Podolny surprised everyone when he announced his intention to leave the traditional environment of higher education and take on a position at Apple beginning in 2009.
“The timing surprised everyone. Deans are typically in these positions for significantly longer; a decade would not be an unusual term. He had gone to really put the Yale School of Management on a different trajectory and that takes time,” said Garth Saloner, dean of Stanford’s Business School.
But Podolny was someone who had flouted convention to work on the cutting edge of academia. “Joel is an innovator and very creative and he’s always looking for new areas to apply that talent,” Saloner said…
“While there are many great companies, I cannot think of one that has had as tremendous personal meaning for me as Apple,” he wrote in a farewell note to Yale students.
And highlighting the importance of Podolny’s role, his office was situated between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. This was clearly an initiative Jobs took with utmost seriousness and is a testament to his efforts to ensure Apple’s continued success years after his departure.