Apple's New HQ Has World Trade Center Style Delays and a Tech Campus Curse
Some $2 billion over budget and a year behind schedule, Steve Jobs's extravagant spaceship-shaped Apple headquarters dream, Campus 2, is turning into more of a nightmare than the office of the future — and investors don't like it.
Some $2 billion over budget and a year behind schedule, Steve Jobs's extravagant spaceship-shaped Apple headquarters dream, Campus 2, is turning into more of a nightmare than the office of the future — and investors don't like it. It's not that an extra couple billion dollars is that big of a problem for a company with $137 billion in cash reserves, but the extravagance of the new Cupertino development does have some worried. "It would take some convincing for me to understand why $5 billion is the right number for a project like this," Keith Goddard, the chief executive of Tulsa-based Capital Advisors, which owns 30,537 shares of Apple, tells Bloomberg Businessweek's Peter Burrows. At the going rate, Burrows estimates, Apple's new campus would cost more than the new World Trade Center complex, which has had its fair share of problems — albeit with more symbolism at stake than single-company capitalism. Goddard is more upset that Apple is being "so stingy" with dividends, but Capital's Goddard has another concern: If Apple stock continues its trajectory, the overpriced California complex, which is still tailored to meet the the late Jobs's very specific tastes, would "perpetuate the negative story." Campus 2, it appears, is a symbol of excess when Apple needs a symbol of corporate dominance, not fading futurism.
It wouldn't be the first time an over-the-top headquarters was symbolic of a tech company's fading peak. This "campus curse" most famously hit Borland Software, which built a $120 million campus that was full capacity when it opened in 1993. Now: "It's a monument to one of the most notable examples of how fleeting corporate success can be," explains CNET's Steve Tobak. Other tech big-timers, like Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics, have invested in large, expensive office parks, only to see the company fade not too long thereafter.
Apple seems like it may be on a similar trajectory with Campus 2, not just because of the building expenses but also because of the particularities of the project. Not too surprisingly, Jobs had a specific design vision that also happens to cost a lot of money. The "far more expensive" technique used for the ceilings, for example, "left one person involved in the project speechless," writes Businessweek's Burrows. Perhaps more concerning, the overall vision for the new Apple campus doesn't match the office-worker life of the future that so many tech companies strive for these days. Because of Campus 2's round shape, it might prove more "alienating" than "convening," according to one architect who talked with Burrows. Most forward thinking tech companies try to design their work spaces to foster collaboration. Facebook's new Frank Gehry designed campus will be a big, long open space that can be adjusted as projects begin and end. Google provides all sorts of perks perks to get people collaborating in the office, even if its Mountain View headquarters doesn't look like, you know, a spaceship. While a circular dome looks "future now," it might prove isolating for Apple employees.
Despite the delays and budget issues, it sounds like Apple will go through with the plans to finish Campus 2 and move in by 2016, a year after the company had originally planned. And current CEO Tim Cook has indicated that it might not look exactly how Jobs intended. "Steve put a lot of love and attention into this before he passed away," Cook said during an annual meeting. "Hopefully we've made it better during the design phase. We want to do this right." With Cook at the helm, he, and not Jobs, will get the blame if and when the campus curse strikes.