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Apple’s new San Francisco office could be a tool in tech talent wars

From Apple’s earliest days, executives insisted that employees work from its headquarters in sleepy suburban Cupertino

Published: Updated:

From Apple’s earliest days, executives insisted that employees work from its headquarters in sleepy suburban Cupertino.

The thinking, championed by Steve Jobs, was that a centralized campus would put the CEO “within walking distance of everyone,” said Steve Wozniak, who founded the company with Jobs.

That stance may finally be softening as Apple prepares to open chic new offices in San Francisco’s high-rent South of Market neighborhood, which has spawned scores of promising startups.

Apple’s decision to plant a flag in San Francisco, 46 traffic-choked miles north of its headquarters, comes years after similar moves from rival tech firms such as Google and LinkedIn and marks a turning point in Apple’s willingness to accommodate workers, according to recruiters and former employees.

The move is one sign of the intensifying war for tech talent - and of the overwhelming preference of younger tech workers to live and work in the city, with its vibrant nightlife and public transportation. The two floors Apple has leased in a building mostly occupied by CBS Interactive offer abundant open space and exposed ceilings, the preferred tech aesthetic.

As Apple’s Silicon Valley rivals dangled perks to woo workers in the latest tech boom, the iPhone maker mostly held firm - the company still does not offer free lunch, and it was among the last companies to operate shuttles to and from the city.

Those company-paid charter buses to the valley appeased workers for a time, but the novelty has faded, said recruiter Andy Price of executive search firm SPMB.

With rising competition for talent from a new wave of private companies with sky-high valuations - such as Uber and Airbnb - Apple must do more, recruiters and former employees say.

“Apple’s attitude has always been that you have the privilege of working for Apple, and if you don’t want to do it, there’s someone around the corner who does,” said Matt MacInnis, a former Apple employee who worked on the company’s education business and is now CEO of Inkling, an enterprise technology company.

Now, MacInnis said, “they have to compete.”

Apple spokesman Colin Johnson declined to comment.

Urban outpost

Apple’s footprint in San Francisco until now has come largely through acquisitions of companies already based there, including Beats Music and Topsy Labs, a social media analytics firm.

After Apple acquired Topsy in 2013, workers were surprised that the company did not move those employees to the valley, a former Apple employee said. Topsy’s space was large enough for about 75 workers, but other Apple employees soon began dropping in to work from the city, crowding the office.

The iPhone maker’s new office will be in about 76,000 square feet of rented space at 235 Second St.

Apple’s presence in San Francisco will remain modest, especially compared to rival Silicon Valley firms such as Google and LinkedIn. The new office is big enough for about 500 workers.

Apple has said that it had more than 25,000 employees in the Santa Clara Valley, where it is headquartered.

Apple could opt to move some employees already in San Francisco into the new space, such as those from Topsy or Beats.

The space is currently under construction, suggesting Apple might be ready to move in late summer, real estate experts say.