My column this week aims to salute to those people and companies that have a different, refreshing way of doing business.
Recently there were murmurs of concern over the health of Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, Inc. Stockholders were worried that perhaps the personal computing wizard had fallen seriously, perhaps even deathly ill. The anxiety stemmed from the belief that Apple will suffer tremendously without Jobs, one of its co-founders, at the helm.
Such apprehension is well justified. The 2008 revenues for the company are expected to come in at just over $32 billion – more than four times what they were under the CEO before Jobs, Gilbert Amelio. Jobs has shown an uncanny sense of the market and is adept at delivering what the public wants. The iPod is essentially a glorified MP3 player, but taking that technology and giving it a streamlined interface and a brand name really popularized the format. More important to me than the boatloads of cash Apple made off this innovation is the simple fact that they made it easier for everyone to carry around music that they like.
Jobs should also be commended for bringing the Macintosh operating system back from the dead; laypeople now have a viable alternative to Windows. Providing another option is nice, as well as creating a new level of competition (which promises to end well for us, the consumers).
Reading this far, I can see how it might appear that I am a fervent Mac user, one of the fanatics, that I’ve drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid. While I do own an iPod and Macbook Pro, I wouldn’t put myself in that category. There are problems I have with Apple; its computers are more expensive than other brands with similar specifications while being far less upgradeable. iPods are also overpriced and I wish the Zune would catch on. Be that as it may, I believe they’ve done more good than harm and should be commended for it.
Next on the list is Pixar, a company actually owned by Disney. I’m recognizing them for discovering a way to make movies for young people that aren’t awful. Starting with Toy Story, the studio has had an unprecedented string of hits, including Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. I stopped watching kid’s movies when I was around 8 because they were just not very good, usually being overly moralistic and often rife with Disney music (which is awful, for the most part).
Pixar movies are kid’s movies that everyone enjoys. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that they do, but they’ve filled the gap left by the old Disney animators quite nicely.
Another company deserving of kudos is Costco Wholesale Corp. Costco has shown that a company can be wildly successful while still treating its employees well and not trying to screw the consumer out of every last dime. Costco is currently the largest wholesaler in the United States, with their chief competition being Wal-Mart (which also owns Sam’s Club). The most glaring difference one sees when comparing the two companies is the attitude and execution of their labor practices.
The average hourly wage of a Wal-Mart employee is $9.68, while the average hourly pay of a Costco employee is $16. The average Costco employee makes over $40,000 after working there for three years, at which point Costco is also paying for over 90 percent of the employee’s health insurance.
One almost wonders how such a generous company stays in business. The management of the company has stated again and again, however, that treating their workers well is not altruistic, but simply good business, and it would appear that they’re right: Relative to the amount of revenue pulled in by each company, just under 10 percent of Costco’s money goes toward paying its workers, while Wal-Mart ends up spending about 17 percent.
Only 18 percent of the Costco workforce is unionized, but the contracts and agreements obtained by the unionized workers are passed on to employees at other stores. It’s extremely refreshing in this era of gargantuan corporations that there is at least one who isn’t totally driven by an all-consuming greed. One wishes that more companies had Costco’s definition of a living wage.
Being innovative and kind doesn’t necessarily hurt one in the marketplace.
Plus, look at the column’s worth of free press these companies just got for being nice.
Hint hint (lookin’ at you, everyone else).
RICHARD PROCTER wants to know what you want him to write about. Send your ideas, suggestions and any extra amazon.com gift certificates you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org.