They Attempt to Figure Out Apple’s Current Management Scheme

November 11th, 2011

You can be assured that few people outside of Apple know much about how the organization is being run these days with Tim Cook fully in charge. But there have been some leaks, stories based on alleged informed sources that reveal a somewhat more open management style, with greater opportunities for collaboration among key executives.

When Steve Jobs was in charge, he supposedly micromanaged every little detail, although the facts demonstrate that he did allow his lieutenants to do their thing more or less. Cook is one example, being the person who reformed Apple’s supply chain and thus made it possible to keep better tabs on demand. Well, it works unless the demand outstrips production, in which case waiting customers just have to continue waiting.

A lot of the changes have to do with personality. Jobs blew hot and cold, depending on his viewpoint or mood, whereas Cook appears to operate on more of a low-key level. At the same time, he is reputed to be a whip cracker too when he needs to prod his staff to work harder.

Now when it comes to new products, even Cook admits he’s not a product person. The job of designing new gadgets, and entering new markets, is left to others, with every indication that industrial design guru Jonathan Ive is getting more authority to do the vision thing. As those of you who have read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs know full well, Ive sometimes chafed at not getting full credit for some of his innovations. That’s not likely to happen anymore.

Indeed, there’s a story out now suggesting that Cook plus Ive, working together, are becoming suitable substitutes for Steve Jobs. Combine their strengths, plus the Apple Way that was embedded into the corporate DNA by Jobs over the years, and it’s quite possible Apple can continue to innovate in a big way for many years to come. Even after the product roadmaps reportedly conceived by Jobs are all executed, Apple will continue to create new roadmaps.

Of course, that’s a particularly optimistic view to take, but consider how well Apple fared even during the times when Jobs was clearly unable even to advise his interim CEO on day-to-day strategy. It seems the company never missed a beat. Certainly Cook’s success must have heavily influenced the decision of Apple’s board to hire him as permanent CEO, not to mention awarding him tons of stock options to keep him on board.

It may also be that Apple is now becoming more proactive in communicating with customers about problems. Take the iOS 5 battery issues, where updated gear and, above all, the iPhone 4s, suffered from seriously shortened battery life in some cases. Apple engineers reached out to customers who complained to the support people about the problem, and, this week, reportedly offered early access to the iOS 5.0.1 update that fixes that issue and a few others.

I have little doubt that, had this problem occurred last year when the iPhone 4 and iOS 4 arrived, Apple would have acted just as quickly to push an update. But I highly doubt they would have contacted customers to help them diagnose the problem, knowing full well that the media would learn about it within short order. I may be wrong, but I think this indicates one key operational change at Apple.

Here’s another possibility: One of my colleagues, author Kirk McElhearn, has encountered a curious problem with his recently-purchased 27-inch iMac. When the unit is put under heavy load, such as rendering data, he detects a smoky odor, as if the power supply is overheating. Unfortunately, service people were unable to duplicate the problem when the machine was sent in for diagnosis. So Kirk sent an email to Tim Cook. In response, someone from Apple’s executive support team tried to solve the problem. I don’t suggest Cook himself saw the message, anymore than Steve Jobs actually read all the email sent to him. More than likely, assistants examine those mailboxes and act on critical requests. But it’s also true that similar email sent to Steve Jobs would sometimes get a response from the proper corporate people.

Does this mean that Apple will also establish a more open public relations policy in releasing information to the media? I expect they won’t. Secrecy is an important part of Apple’s DNA, and turning new product announcements into special media events has proven successful each and every time. Apple garners millions upon millions of dollars in free publicity during the run up to an expected product intro. You can’t buy that sort of advertising. Yes, Apple does give advance briefings to a handful of journalists from key publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Time magazine and elsewhere. But the rest of us have to fend for ourselves, or hope that our speculation will bear fruit.

Meantime, we can’t stop talking about Apple. Going forward, we will all continue to look closely at Apple’s ongoing behavior and performance, to see just what real changes Tim Cook has wrought. I expect some will be more than skin deep, while, in the most important respects, Apple will still be Apple.

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8 Responses to “They Attempt to Figure Out Apple’s Current Management Scheme”

  1. dfs says:

    There’s secrecy and then there’s secrecy. Refusal to disclose forthcoming products and discuss future company plans is one thing. Silence about problems with current Apple products and responding to reasonably widespread customer complaints by stonewalling is quite another. The first kind is arguably smart business policy. I suspect the other kind has largely been motivated by fear of lawsuits. Which is not entirely unreasonable. If somebody were to sue Apple on the grounds that such-and-such a hardware or software problem cost him lost working time and therefore lost money, sure, that might be a nuisance suit with no substantial merit, but even a nuisance suit costs time and money to defend. But Apple has at times carried this policy almost to the point of paranoia, which might have reflected one of Steve’s personality quirks, or maybe at times he paid a little too much attention to the legal department, who are after all paid to be paranoids. So it sounds like current management’s’s policy towards the second kind of secrecy is thawing a bit, but that has nothing to do with its policy about the first kind.

    B. t. w., I have what looks like light smoke staining on the inside of my 27“ iMac’s front glass. So far I’ve lived with it since it’s not too annoying, but if it gets worse I’m going to have to take it into the shop. Could this be related to the smokey odor issue Gene describes in this piece?

  2. Kirk says:

    Interesting. I don’t see smoke, and I don’t see anything on the glass (actually it’s plastic) on my iMac. But I can smell it, at times, coming from the vent in the back.

    You can remove the front plastic of the iMac, and it’s actually pretty easy. Get a suction cup, press it on the top of the screen, and pull. This whole piece of plastic is held onto the iMac by magnets, so it comes off easily. You might want to try and clean the inside of that plastic first on your own and see if you can remove the stain, and then wait and see if it comes back.

    • Yacko says:

      Haven’t the front panels of iMacs been GLASS since the aluminum transition? Also to blithely state it is held with magnets and comes off easily certainly glosses over the fact it can be frustratingly hard to put back together. He needs a clear table as a workspace, a couple of towels for cushioning, iFixit instructions and steely determination. As the iMac in question is likely still under warranty or not too far out of warranty, he would be better off to take it in and see what the geniuses think.

  3. Kirk says:

    I did it recently, and it’s incredibly easy. I think it’s been plastic for a long time; it’s a very hard plastic, but it’s flexible.

    Here’s a YouTube video showing how easy it is:

  4. Peter says:

    Now when it comes to new products, even Cook admits he’s not a product person.

    That’s one of the things that scares me. I read a story where someone was doing a demo for him and he said, “Okay, how will this help me sell more iPhones?”

    First, Steve would have immediately seen how whatever he was being shown would have or would not have sold more iPhones. If Tim can’t see that, he shouldn’t be wasting his time watching demos.

    The scarier part, though, is the sentence, “How will this help me sell more iPhones?” That sounds like something Steve Ballmer would say–I don’t care about what you’re doing, I only care about more sales.

    • @Peter, Well, Apple can only enter a small number of markets in the way they’re set up. If a new product doesn’t have the potential to pay its way, or if a new product feature won’t deliver the goods, way make the investment? Apple didn’t create the iPhone to be another “hobby.”

  5. dfs says:

    Back in the Bad Old Days (read “Gil Amelio“), Apple had a habit of bringing out new half-baked products and technologies but not developing them to the point where they amounted to anything worthwhile. This was the result of Amelio letting everybody in the company run around developing their own pet projects without having any grasp of how they fit into the Big Picture. That’s one of the things Steve ruthlessly ended. He insisted on focus, and Apple stoppped wasting a lot of time and money on developing peripheral stuff that went nowhere. When Tim asked “what does this have to do with selling iPhones?” I suspect he meant “what does this have to do with the core business of this company?” Sounds like his version of Steve’s focus.

  6. John B says:

    A while back, after an iOS update, my iPod touch started having battery problems. If Airplane Mode was turned off, the battery would drain on standby in less than 24 hours. I was not alone, and posted about the problem on Apple’s support forum. Shortly after my posting, I was contacted by Apple tech support (I never contacted them). They sent me some monitoring software to install and had me try a bunch of different things. Unfortunately, when they started wanting me to dismantle my home network, which I rely on for my home-based business, I had to refuse. Over a year and several updates later, I still have to keep Airplane Mode turned off.

    My point, this is not the first time Apple has contacted users about a problem.

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