When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

From Apple's headquarters in Cork
From Apple's headquarters in Cork
Alexandre Counis

CORK — On a December morning, as my plane pierces the ceiling of clouds and begins its descent toward the airport of Cork, my eyes are drawn to the flocks of sheep spread across the green fields below. It's hard to imagine but this seemingly rural backdrop in southern Ireland houses the European headquarters of Apple, one the most important American companies in the world.

Cork has made headlines in recent months. Last year, the European Commission ordered Apple to pay 13 billion euros in back taxes to Ireland based on their operations in Cork. Apple employs 6,000 people in the city, and created an estimated 2,500 related jobs. The Commission accused Ireland of illegally helping Apple with tax breaks and denounced Dublin's tax incentives policy.

Why did the Silicon Valley giant choose this city of 130,000, which is routinely hammered by rain, chilly temperatures — even in the summer — and a two-and-a-half hour drive from Dublin.

Brussels thinks the answer is obvious — tax evasion or so-called "fiscal optimization." But there's more to this city from where 3 million people emigrated to the New World in the 19th century. Work in Cork is flexible and the workforce is qualified. There are several nearby universities for Apple to tap into for new recruits. Cork, from where Apple manages all its operations outside of the U.S., therefore offers considerable advantages.

The Holly Hill campus rests on old fields, about 10 minutes by car from the city center. The first thing you notice once you've passed the security gate is the parking lot, which is massive like American shopping malls. At the other end of it, you find the entrance to an ultra-modern building that once used to hold a factory. Behind it, a vast construction site separates the campus from houses.

Apple employs a lot of young people — their average age is about 30 — from 96 different nationalities. *Brian, who joined the company in 2004, is head of logistics. He and his 90-member team are in charge of supplying retailers and Apple stores outside of the U.S. Before Apple releases a new product, he's only told about one aspect — the weight and size of the packaging. His job is to optimize the transport of boxes from factories to the stores where they'll be sold.

"Why do we do it all from Cork? First of all, because most of our transporters are pan-European," Brian explains. "So we have one person that negotiates for the whole of Europe... Also, we want to provide the same service for all clients across Europe."

"Being all together in the same place enables us to make economies of scale and to exchange information on different markets, where tastes often vary greatly," says Lilian, who leads a team of 110 people focused on retail operations.

The city of Cork, twinned with San Francisco since 1984, is Apple's biggest site after Cupertino, the California headquarters. Founder Steve Jobs picked it himself when he decided to expand the company internationally. When Apple established itself in Cork in October 1980, the company was only a start-up created four years earlier, and was just about to enter the stock market. This was its first computer production line outside of the U.S. There were 60 employees in 1980, 170 a year later.

Manufacturing for export was a tax-free activity in Ireland at the time, which explains why the company paid no tax, or almost no tax, until 1991. Then the law changed and Ireland granted Apple the infamous tax ruling the European Commission disapproves of.

The site expanded at first, then shrunk. Jobs, leading the company at a time the company was going through a rough patch, didn't hesitate to cut the local workforce from 2,000 to 600 people in 1998. It was Tim Cook, the current CEO, who was in charge of restructuring production. Mac computers gradually stopped being manufactured in Ireland and the operation was relocated to China. But in the 2000s, Apple bounced back, first with the iPod and later with the iPhone. It was a revival not just for the company, but also for this city.

The legacy of Steve Jobs can still be felt in how everything is centralized. Rather than letting each country decide for itself how to sell Apple products, he wanted to gather all teams in one place so institute the same procedures and make the same demands.

Cork is a way for the American company to be as close as possible to its European customers. Not far from the 1,000 AppleCare employees working from the old printed circuit factory are the 150 people whose job it is to test iPhone, iPad and iMac software, and to adapt them in some 30 languages.

"There are 650,000 words in macOS. But words are on average 30% longer in German than in Englishm and 40-45 % longer in Greek or Hungarian. So we have to reduce the messages in size," explains Dave, an employee who heads the team. Can an emoji be perceived as offensive in a certain market? It's up to Dave and his colleagues to remove it before the product goes on sale.

In an adjoining room, about 20 people test prototypes, especially new iMacs, under Neil's supervision. The idea is to take into account any European specificity since norms can vary from those in the U.S.

Surprisingly perhaps, there's still an iMac assembly plant in Cork. It's actually the only Apple factory in the world, all of the others being owned by subcontractors, including the one that recently opened in the U.S. to manufacture the MacBook Pro. Here, 360 people busy themselves around two lines that produce a total of 140 units per hour. Components come from China and workers assemble them for the European, Middle Eastern and African markets. Two teams work in shifts, each doing 12 hours three days in a row with four days off. And 65% of employees are assigned to quality testing.

Why Cork instead of China? Paul repeats that this helps to "adapt the software" within each product to local markets. Also, he adds, "because given the size of iMacs, assembling them in China and then shipping them from there to European consumers would cost a lot more..." To manufacture dreams, you sometimes have to be down-to-earth.

*Only first names of Apple employees were used

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Women, Life, Freedom: Iranian Protesters Find Their Voice

In the aftermath of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police mid-September for not wearing her hijab properly, many Iranians have taken the streets in nationwide protests. Independent Egyptian media Mada Masr spoke to one of the protesters.

Students of Amirkabir University in Tehran protest against the Islamic Republic in September 2022.

Lina Attalah

On September 16, protests erupted across Iran when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody after being arrested and beaten by morality police for her supposedly unsuitable attire. The protests, witnesses recount, have touched on all aspects of rights in Iran, civil, political, personal, social and economic.

Mada Masr spoke to a protester who was in the prime of her youth during the 2009 Green Movement protests. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to possible security retaliation, she walked us through what she has seen over the past week in the heart of Tehran, and how she sees the legacy of resistance street politics in Iran across history.

MADA MASR: Describe to us what you are seeing these days on the streets of Tehran.

ANONYMOUS PROTESTER: People like me, we are emotional because we remember 2009. The location of the protests is the same: Keshavarz Boulevard in the middle of Tehran. The last time Tehranis took to these streets was in 2009, one of the last protests of the Green Movement. Since then, the center of Tehran hasn’t seen any mass protests, and most of these streets have changed, with new urban planning meant to make them more controllable.

Remembering 2009 triggers many things, such as street strategies, tactics and the way we could find each other in the middle of the chaos. But this is us now, almost at the back. Up front, there are many younger people, especially girls. They are extremely brave, fearless and smart.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ