One Bad Apple (Inc.) Can Spoil The Whole Damn Bunch

A pal of mine, Greg Lee, Sr. Marketing & Membership Director for the Chapel Hill YMCA forwarded me an interesting article about former Apple Store “Genius”, Chad Ramey.  Since my past life includes a retail background, I find any info on Apple Stores interesting.

Chad Ramey, a 4-year Apple employee, allegedly bullied by store managers into resigning, wrote an email to Apple CEO, Tim Cook.  The email explained that Apple’s stores had changed “from something truly spectacular and wonderful, to big-box retail that is no better than a Best Buy or a Walmart”.  Burn. His email also explained he was forced to “abandon his passion”.  Needless to say, Chad dug his job. A lot.

To be fair, Apple, known for creating and adhering to strict operational rules, is obviously doing something right in their retail division.  According to Business Insider, “Retail represented $3.19 billion of Apple’s revenue last quarter, or 13% of the company’s overall sales.”  That’s a 90% year-over-year increase.  90 PERCENT.  And herein lies the problem.  Other employees in other emails describe feeling the strains that mega growth leads to:  less customer interaction, exhaustion, and being forced to do more with less resources (ie people), etc.

Now, maybe Chad was lying, maybe he was rightfully terminated and unrightfully angry, or maybe he was a brilliant jerk whose behavior was tolerated because he could deliver.  But the email does reiterate plausible scenarios that are familiar to corporate HR pros.  What to learn:

  • One bad manager can affect the whole bunch:  A whole bunch of employees, a whole bunch of departments, a whole company’s reputation.  Create a culture that does not tolerate awful managers, especially any that bully.  Also teach your managers that every study, statistic, survey, and report shows the number one reason people quit is because their manager stinks.  This is nothing new but for some reason always needs repeating.
  • Managers, C-Suite, and leaders of every type absolutely do affect the well-being of employees.  Your actions are always watched and your behaviors have an impact on people’s lives. Pull it together.
  • Co’s, please don’t get caught with your pants down in the fortunate event you experience mega-growth.  The employee experience must always be front and center, despite obstacles. If your company experiences mega- growth, and employees have no choice but to work under hard conditions, put some programs in place to thank or reward them.  In the very least, acknowledge you know it’s tough.

Advice to Apple, while you have a captive customer-base (I mean you do have the awesome-nest products in the world),  I would love to not make an appointment to get simple help or wait in line for an hour every time there is an upgrade.  And an adjacent store dedicated to the genius bar would be the bomb. Maybe you could learn a thing or two from Chad.

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Dawn Burke
Dawn Burke (PHR) is VP of People at DAXKO. That's right - the very DAXKO that our very own KD is an alum of because there are only so many people (okay, just one) in the big B'ham who are worthy of that VP of People title. Dawn would be it. Former actor/singer/retail guru, her HR career has spanned the last decade. A true Generalist she’s done a little bit of everything, but recruiting and training is where she gets her mojo. She's based in the good 'ole blogging capitol of the south, Birmingham, Alabama, where you can frequently find her listening to the Beatles and REM, watching tons of Sex in the City reruns, drinking copious amounts of coffee and wine, and wondering how in the world this theatre grad ever got into football or HR…. Talk to Dawn via emailLinkedIn, or Twitter...


  1. Justin says:

    Great post Dawn! Your point about companies losing sight of what leads to their success and focusing more on execution rather than quality in their people can be disastrous, and as you point out, leading them to be caught with their pants down.

    Also good for all to remember is that our attitudes impact every single person around us. We may be having a horrible day, but that’s not a reason to take it out on the people you work with, whether that’s internal or external customers.

  2. Karin says:

    Good point Dawn. When a business becomes that large it becomes more and more difficult to find, develop and retain the kind of managers and non-management employees that were important to success in the first place and more difficult to see problems early on. It may be true that the number one reason employees leave an employer is problem managers it is also true that even the best managers sometimes end up with a problem employee. The problem with these publicized scenarios is that we really don’t know all the factors involved. And any experienced HR person knows that the public presentation of employment issues only provides <= 50% of the relevant facts and that each side is a disagreement positions their perspective from the viewpoint that best suits them. Apple is growing so rapidly that it is in a steep hiring curve in an industry that pays low wages and little in the way of benefits for jobs in which employees are work with the public-and I hear from Apple Retail employees the same stories about shockingly rude and disrespectful customers that I hear from other customer facing employees in retail and hospitality roles. They have to deal with that behaviour calmly and respectfully while meeting the constant pressure to meet sales expectations and to do so in a way that creates a 'positive customer experience' -in other industries that kind of pressure garners better financial rewards.

  3. Dawn Burke says:

    @justin Agreed! It happens to often–in all fairness, it may not be an intentional “losing sight” due to the fast growth…but if the outcome is poor quality or ignoring employee feedback…the result can be awful.

    @Karin there is always two sides to every employee v employer story. And you are correct, we only got one side in this article. Perhaps Tim Cook will reply to the email addressing the challenges to bring out both sides. Although airing that dirty laundry could backfire. There is a good chance that the employee did contribute on some level to his demise.

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