Apple's Employee Morale Problem

Being an employee of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) over the past 10 years must have been the greatest feeling in the world. Unfortunately all good things come to an end at some point. Shortly after the passing of Steve Jobs we pondered the possibility of a big brain drain as employees might start considering new options at other firms. While this was a bit early in the likely defection cycle, it seems that the lack of great new products and the slumping stock price is finally taking a toll on employee morale to the point that employees are starting to defect.

In the downgraded Jefferies stock price target (to $405 from $420) on Monday, we focused mostly on the raw numbers as a result of lower iPhone shipments. It turns out the employee morale was a key issue as well. Global Equities Research had some caution in a second report out against Apple, noting specifically that a lower and lower Apple stock price is moving from low employee morale into employee defections. It was even said that some Apple employees are going to work at other tech players like Google and Hewlett-Packard Co. and also over to social media players like Facebook or LinkedIn.

Slower growth appears to have created slower ambition. What is interesting is that Apple’s growth cycle lasted for a full decade and if employees are defecting then Apple is running into the same sort of stagnation that occurs at many great places to work through time.

It seems unlikely that Tim Cook’s decision (or the board of directors’ decision) is going to be enough to make employees or investors change their stance. The reality is that a successor after a top executive like Steve Jobs could tie his compensation to almost any metric, only to realize that some things are just simply outside of their control.

On Wall Street, share price is movement is supposed to be based upon the inflows or outflows of raw dollars into a stock. Investors often like for CEOs to have their financial futures tied to the price of a stock, but at some point there are risks such as supply chain interruptions, bear markets, recessions, and the like.

Apple shares closed down 2.65% at $402.54 on Monday and hit a low of $398.05 on the day against a 52-week trading range of $385.10 to $705.07. Apple’s stock would now have to rise 75% just to match its former peak. Monday’s price drop took the price of Apple stock to the lowest closing bell price since the end of April.

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