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Don't lose them!
Was there a time when keeping people working was a sign of success? Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
When Steve Jobs took the stage to unveil the iMac in 1998, so almost a quarter of a century ago, he was basically beaming with pride:
He'd returned just nine months earlier to lead the company he'd co-founded, after his unceremonious firing a dozen years earlier.
He was thrilled to have been successful already at changing Apple's image; this was after Apple's "Think Different" marketing campaign, which people still talk about today.
And he was practically bouncing off the stage as he rolled out the first new products since his return—a massive upheaval after Jobs had gotten rid of 70 percent of Apple's product line.
But there was one key statistic that Jobs touted right at the beginning of his presentation, that he said showed that Apple was now accomplishing the "most important" thing any company has to do if it wants to be among the truly great leaders.
Here's how he put it:
“Apple's got some very talented employees. Just incredibly talented people. And when you have great people, the most important thing to do is to not lose them.”
"Don't lose them!" And how do you measure whether an organization loses great people?
Well, you hire the best you possibly can, and then you look at the company's annual attrition rate: What percentage of employees are still with the company at the end of each year?
According to Jobs, Apple's employee attrition rate had been 33 percent during the year before he joined the company. After less than a year with him at the helm, he said, it had dropped to 15 percent.
Without context, that doesn't strike me as a stellar end-result, but according to Jobs it was below "the Silicon Valley average."
Also, he'd been back at Apple for less than a year, and a much more recent government report from 2021 says overall attrition rates in the United States now average just over 50 percent—or else 25 percent when you consider only voluntary turnover.
I include the full video of Jobs's presentation at the end of this newsletter. It's fun to watch how excited everyone gets over things that are beyond commonplace now—like the idea of an iMac designed to connect to the Internet, or Jobs's excitement over the machine's aesthetics, which seem a little dated to our quarter-of-a-century-later eyes.
But that question of retention and attrition rates seems especially relevant today— after a pandemic, and a few months of massive numbers of layoffs, and the changing nature of work, and "quiet quitting," and all the rest.
In a way, it's like anything in life:
The only thing better than finding an amazing new place to move is to find an amazing new reason to love the place where you already live.
The only thing better than getting a new customer is keeping a new one who wants to do even more business with you.
The only thing better than recruiting a new employee is finding that a real A-gamer on your team is stepping up, adding tons of value, and really feeling loyalty to what you're building together.
Actually, let me add one more—and this one is for my wife, so we can see if she reads the newsletter—the only thing better than finding new love is finding yet another reason to love the one you've been with for more than a few years.
OK. Valentine's Day has already passed, and our anniversary isn't until June, so let's bring this back to Jobs and the jobs.
How did he move so quickly to slash the attrition rate at Apple so drastically? I'll let him explain:
Part of that is because people can now see how Apple can win again. Another part of that is because we've made Apple a much more entrepreneurial place. All of the key employees have lots of stock options.
The audience laughed at that last part about stock options, but when you factor in stock splits (on a 56 to 1 total basis since then), Apple was trading at about 24 cents a share on the day Jobs gave this speech; even after a tough last year or so, it closed at $146.71 on Friday.
Besides, don't write off that last point: Share the wealth.
Anyway, here's to low attrition, to icons of entrepreneurship, and to the fact that I'm writing this on a MacBook Pro and there's a better-than-even chance you're reading it on an iPhone. None of it would have happened if a third of Apple's employees had quit back in 1998.
Here's the video of Jobs unveiling the iMac. You can find the part about attrition beginning within the first minute, and the audience's anachronistic but endearing reaction to Jobs's unveiling the iMac starts around 20 minutes in.
7 other things worth knowing today
The U.S. Energy Department has concluded (but "with low confidence") that the COVID pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Energy Department now joins the FBI in saying the virus likely spread via a mishap at a Chinese laboratory. Four other agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still judge that it was likely the result of a natural transmission, and two are undecided. (WSJ, free link)
The U.S. is warning China not to provide weapons to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine. "We are watching closely," national security advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz. "We know they haven't taken it off the table. And we are sending a clear message, as are our European allies, that this would be a real mistake because those weapons would be used to bombard cities and kill civilians, and China should want no part of that." (ABC News)
Speaking of layoffs, Twitter had another round over the weekend: about 50 employees lost their jobs, including the former founder of Revue (a newsletter platform kind of like Substack), which Twitter acquired but then shut down after Elon Musk took over. Musk joked grimly about Twitter's profits last week: "Say what you want about me, but I acquired the world’s largest non-profit for $44B," he wrote on Twitter. (Fox Business)
El Salvador’s government has moved thousands of suspected gang members to a newly opened “megaprison”, the latest step in a controversial crackdown on crime that has caused the Central American nation’s prison population to soar. “This will be their new home, where they won’t be able to do any more harm to the population,” the president, Nayib Bukele, wrote on Twitter. (The Guardian)
South Korea’s fertility rate, the world’s lowest for years, has fallen again, aggravating the challenges of aging demographics for the economy. The number of babies expected per woman fell to 0.78 last year, according to data released by the statistics office on Wednesday. At 0.81 in 2021, it was already the lowest among more than 260 nations. (Bloomberg)
Hundreds of newspapers dropped the comic strip Dilbert, after comments its creator, Scott Adams, made about race relations: "[T]he best advice I can give to White people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the f*** away," Adams said, adding: "That's what I did. I moved to a neighborhood that has a very low Black population. ... It makes no sense whatsoever as a White citizen of America to try to help Black citizens." (Fox News; longer quote on Twitter, in case you want to see for yourself)
It feels like we’ve been kind of serious today so let’s switch things up for the finish: from earlier this month, a 7th grader in North Dakota won a $10,000 prize by making a layup, a free throw, a 3-pointer, and a half-court shot within 25 seconds. (Twitter)
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Thanks for reading. Image credit: fair use. I wrote about some of this before for Inc.com. See you in the comments.