Yesterday, an article was published on gizmodo.com about the most corrupt Apple Store in America. Although the store was never identified, I immediately knew what store they were talking about, and I was 99% certain who the unnamed source (Ronald) was who revealed his less-than-stellar experiences as a Genius in one of the stores.
I worked as a Lead Genius in the same market as this ‘most corrupt store’ from February 2008 until May 2011. I did not work regularly at the store that was mentioned, but I worked at the ‘sister’ store. There were times when I would go to the store in question for training or mentoring, but I’m happy to say that I never had to work with Ronald. I don’t remember if he was still even there when I took over as Lead, but the legendary stories about him lived on. I had one interaction with him: I was at a bar one evening and I ran into Ronald there, and he asked me if I’d hire him at my store. From what I’d heard of him– if even half of the stories were even kind of true– I knew he would not fit on my team.
I’m writing this to clarify that while some of the things mentioned in that article could possibly be true (albeit exaggerated in many cases), things are not like that in every Apple store. At the store where I worked, I led a team of men and women who look like angels in light of what’s come out about our ‘sister’ store. When I took over as lead, they were a group of individuals who were proud of their own work, but they struggled to work cohesively as a team. It was my job to unite them and to inspire them. In over three years while I led them, they didn’t act out of spite. They didn’t purposefully lose customer’s data. They didn’t pour liquid into computers, although they’d been accused of it on multiple occasions. They didn’t see who could break their phones the worst so they could have them replaced the next day. They weren’t allowed to exhibit behavior like what Ronald mentioned, nor were they people who would react in such a way, anyway. Although some managers did routinely treat us and our coworkers like children, we behaved as adults. [Most of the managers who treated us with respect were forced out. The rumor became that if the staff liked you, you were not long for the Apple Store.]
The team I led cared about the Apple customers and assumed positive intent in even the most difficult circumstances. If there was a customer that made someone mad, a manager was always called in (customers know how to get things at Apple Stores), and we were always instructed to go above and beyond for that customer. Many times, as the lead, I had to deal with the most unreasonable, most demanding of customers, and I’d have to face them with a smile and a polite thank you. It’s the Apple way, and there’s no use in fighting it. You just do it.
I think it’s pathetic that Ronald told his story as if it was the norm for all Apple Stores. I am here to tell you it is not. I am here to tell you that the people who work at the Genius bar where I spent over three years worked harder than any people I’ve ever met or worked with. Every year, corporate (or the ex-market manager, we never knew) expected something more, and even though we thought it wasn’t possible, the team banded together, and they did the impossible. Employees who should have been exhausted, worn down, defeated– and oftentimes they were– still went out to the bar every day, juggling four customers at once at the directive of management, and they created the best experience for customers that they possibly could. Was every customer happy? Of course not. Were some of their demands unreasonable? Damn right they were. Did the team let this poison their attitude toward the next customer? No. They rallied. And even though the expectations by our managers were sky-high, I can say that the expectations the team held of their own work were even higher. They strived to be better and work faster while still providing a great service for the customer. They were amazing people to work with, and even though I’ve moved on, I still remember each of them fondly and keep in touch with many of them. In fact, I dedicated my third book to them. That’s how much I admired them.
It’s not fair for these people who are pushed to their limits to get such a bad rap because of one attention-starved ex-employee who felt wronged by how he was treated. Customers should feel confident that in most Apple stores, they will receive the best customer experience in retail. If something has to be repaired, Geniuses are trained and retrained. The ones I worked with had talent and integrity. I would trust my broken computer with them any day.
I was not at the store in question to be able to confirm or deny any of the reports in the gizmodo article, but I will say that I heard rumors of a lot of that stuff while I was with Apple. After seeing some of my favorite managers move on or get forced out, I started struggling with decisions that management made, and it seemed that some unreasonable decisions were being filtered down by that market manager that was mentioned in the article. I know that everyone feared being on her bad side. I feared it, and eventually found myself on that bad side. I was a good leader. I was well-liked by my team and by many employees at the store… but I still found myself in the office on the receiving end of a startling review of my performance… one that didn’t sound like me at all. And I didn’t fight it. I left. Most of the good managers did.
As for that market leader in question, I won’t say anything disparaging about her, but I will say that when I left, I hoped that karma would catch up to her.