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Adrian Weckler Technology Editor
December 15 2017 2:30 AM
To the European Commission and financial newspaper pages, Apple's Cork presence is often spoken of primarily in terms of tax.
But what does the tech giant actually do at its Holyhill campus? Other than finance, what else goes on behind its gleaming glass panels?
This week, the Irish Independent gained access to all corners of the facility, which is hosted on an expanding campus within Cork's tough northside neighbourhood.
It yielded a rare look behind the curtain of one of the most talked-about technology operations in Europe.
Officially, Apple's listed activities include manufacturing, finance, customer care, sales support, logistics and transport management.
Other functions include iTunes and localisation (including some testing of Siri voice services).
But only in walking around the giant campus does one get an idea of the vast scale of its operations.
The facility's huge onsite Applecare team serves 134 countries across Europe and Africa and India.
Holyhill is also responsible for shipping "hundreds of millions" of products annually to 51 countries.
Most surprising of all is the large manufacturing factory in the middle of the campus. Apple actually builds iMac computers in Cork, its only self-owned manufacturing facility around the world. This is Apple's longest-running business activity in Ireland, a direct inheritance of the company's original iteration in 1980.
But for a company that pioneered Chinese manufacturing techniques, why continue with a factory in a small western European island?
"Cork is regarded as a manufacturing centre of excellence," said one senior executive.
"It's often the team from this facility that is called upon to help out in other parts of the world. You have to understand that manufacturing skills are very scarce and specialised. What we have collected at this base is invaluable."
This theme - the concentration of skilled, older managers with years of critical experience - is a common one throughout the various halls, lobbies and offices of Holyhill.
It is why so much of the logistics in getting products sorted around the globe is now run from the Cork facility.
"As soon as Tim [Cook, Apple CEO] leaves the stage, we're in action," said one senior logistics manager.
Read more: 6,000 workers, 90 nationalities: 8 facts about the key Irish plant
Product launches and the pre-Christmas period emphasise the point.
Every time a new iPhone is formally unveiled, it is Holyhill that acts as the company's brain in sorting it all out. Millions of devices have to be sourced, steered and delivered from the factory in China to the far corners of 13 time zones.
"From the time the products leave the factory, it's a huge operation to manage right across Europe," said the logistics manager.
The figures are staggering. In the month of December alone, some 375,000 delivery details, involving thousands of delivery depots and flights, have to be overseen in painful detail.
In most cases, the person on the phone calling the shots has a Cork accent. This promotion of local talent is one of the most striking features of management working around Apple's Cork campus.
Apple's profile in tax affairs will not fade away any time soon. The company is in talks with the Irish Government on starting the process of setting up an escrow account to pay back some €13bn of back tax to Ireland. Both Apple and the Irish Government are appealing the original European Commission decision, handed down last year.
But whatever the outcome of that case, it's hard to see the company shifting from Cork anytime soon. It has too much at stake in the Holyhill neighbourhood.