Steve Jobs, 1996: "Apple Will Be the Nike of Consumer Electronics"

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With working conditions and security policy down Apple's supply chain under serious fire, an Apple insider reached out to us. Apple's blasé attitude toward its manufacturers' labor practices, he says, is old news.


Our tipster was a member of the Newton team when Steve Jobs made his return to Apple in 1996, with mixed memories of the homecoming:

In an effort to bring the Newton group into the fold, we had a meeting at which Steve laid out his vision for the future of Apple.

"Apple will be the Nike of consumer electronics" was his mantra.

The Nike of consumer electronics. I mean sure, aspiring for Nike's level of name recognition and synonymity with their industry is forgivable. But in 1996-1997, Nike's name wasn't just synonymous with shoes and sportwear; it was synonymous with shady work practices, after an extensive Life Magazine article about labor conditions in Pakistan led with a photo of a small boy surrounded by Nike merchandise. To aspire to be Nike that year was to aspire to be successful at all costs. :

I stood and asked if that included employing disadvantaged 'slave' labor in Asia? A well known problem for Nike at the time.

My question was ignored.

Regardless of the actual v.s. relative working conditions, a company cannot grow and produce margins like Apples without someone paying the price. That someone is always the one with least leverage.

Unfortunately, extreme secrecy can also protect bad practices as much as any legitimate trade secret.


This anecdote clearly comes from someone who's got some serious issues with Apple, and Steve Jobs in particular, whom he calls "one of the most vindictive people I have ever met." But if true, the implications are disturbing: It paints Apple, from the top, as a company—that's been plagued with documented labor issues as of late—that isn't just blissfully unaware of how companies down its supply chain meet their absurd demands for secrecy, including known labor problems, but as a company that ignored these concerns from the start. [Thanks, tipster!—Pic via LostInAFog]