In 2014, shortly after Mr. Guthrie left his job as dean of the George Washington University business school, Apple hired him to teach its managers and advise executives about China. He also conducted research, and his first project was the company’s supply chain. Mr. Guthrie, now 52, left Apple in 2019 and is a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University.
When he started at Apple, Mr. Guthrie said, its executives knew they relied too much on China and wanted to diversify. India and Vietnam were the top candidates, but Mr. Guthrie concluded that neither was a viable replacement.
Vietnam’s government was cooperative, but the country simply did not have enough workers, he said. India had the people, but its bureaucracy made it complicated to build infrastructure and factories. Beyond those issues, most of the smaller suppliers that made Apple’s screws, circuit boards and other components were already concentrated in China.
Apple has still pushed into India and Vietnam in recent years, including by building a smaller iPhone assembly plant in India, but Tim Cook, the chief executive, has said publicly that its supply chain will remain centered in China.
To Mr. Guthrie, that stance left Apple vulnerable, especially as China’s new leader was looking for ways to use his influence over American companies in the country. In 2014, China’s so-called dispatch labor law went into effect, limiting the share of temporary workers in a company’s work force to 10 percent. From Day 1, Apple and its suppliers were in violation.
At a Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, China, the world’s biggest iPhone factory, temporary workers made up as much as half of the work force, according to a report by China Labor Watch, an advocacy group. After the report, Apple confirmed that the factory broke the law.