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  • Did Tim Cook Learn Something from Donald Trump?

    October 31st, 2012

    When outrageous businessman/personality Donald Trump finds someone unacceptable on his reality TV show, he gloats and announces with utter sarcasm, “You’re fired!” It is clear that Tim Cook, in putting his stamp on his tenure as CEO of Apple, has evidently taken that phrase to heart. Well, perhaps partly.

    In an unexpected move on Tuesday, it was announced that two key Apple executives were on the way out. Of these, iOS software head Scott Forstall had the longest history at Apple. The other executive, John Browett, held the post as head of Apple’s retail division for about ten months.

    Now Forstall, a NeXT veteran, had once been regarded as a potential successor to Steve Jobs, and even as a replacement for Tim Cook if the latter’s tenure as CEO faltered.

    It’s fairly clear why Browett had to go. His management of the Apple Store demonstrated he didn’t have the chops, or even the style, to run the retail division originally established by Steve Jobs and his predecessor, Ron Johnson. In a particularly foolish move, Browett’s reported attempt to focus more heavily on profits from the retail stores, and engaging in MBA-style cost cutting, was quickly reversed. For now Cook will manage the division until a replacement is found. And that may not be easy. The Apple Store set the bar for company outlets, and it’s going to be difficult to find an executive with the skills and the vision to carry it forward.

    When it comes to Forstall, his duties have been parceled out to other executives. Apple’s “Mr. Fixit,” Eddy Cue, the Senior Vice President for Internet Software and Services, has reportedly been given the job of fixing the flawed Siri and Map features of the iOS. Indeed, several reports claim that Forstall was given the boot because he refused to agree to sign that letter of contrition about severe Maps flaws. As you recall, Tim Cook took full responsibility.

    Forstall’s main assignment, running the iOS division, has been passed on to Craig Federighi, the Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, who is also handling OS X. Putting both the desktop and mobile OS in the hands of a single person may also help better integrate the two development cycles.

    Meantime, Jonathan Ive cements his post as the creative go-to person at Apple, inheriting both hardware and software Human Interface across the company. Perhaps he’ll also eliminate some of the design excesses for such apps as Calendar and Contacts in both the iOS and OS X. That, by the way, is yet another beef Apple might have had with Forstall.

    According to those widely published reports, Forstall evidently had a reputation as yet another mercurial personality allegedly engaged in the worst kind of corporate politics. The stories suggest that he was the sort of person who’d be quick to claim credit for his team’s successes, and just as quick to pass on the blame to others when things went wrong. Such claims paint a picture of someone who didn’t work well with others. While Steve Jobs, himself no easy person to deal with, might have tolerated such behavior, Tim Cook appears to prefer fewer emotional extremes.

    But I caution the reader that these widespread reports aren’t going to be officially confirmed by Apple, and “informed sources” reporting may not provide a full picture of what actually occurred.

    With the stock market closed, it’s also hard to guess how Wall Street will respond to Apple’s executive shakeup, though that might be obvious by the time you read this article. On the other hand, there’s little to indicate that the new assignments passed on to other executives could possibly hurt the company. If Maps and Siri become better, if OS design excesses are toned down, and general hardware and software performs more reliably, it’ll be a good thing. It certainly demonstrates that Cook is using a strong hand to keep Apple going. Just tolerating executive failures would, in the end, hurt the company severely.

    Indeed, you wonder why the board of directors at Microsoft isn’t exerting stronger authority to eliminate some of that company’s problems adapting to the 21st century. Did the world really need Windows 8 and the interface formerly known as Metro? Is the Surface tablet a true competitor to the iPad and Android gear? Does CEO Steve Ballmer have a clue about how to move Microsoft from its reliance on Windows and Office, and recognize where the PC is going?

    If Windows 8 and the Surface bomb, and the jury is still out on that score, would Microsoft’s board have the guts to dump Ballmer, regardless of the size of his golden parachute?

    You can bet that, if Tim Cook cannot right the ship at Apple — and it’s certainly not sinking — he’d be looking for a new job really quickly. Today’s Apple isn’t the sort of company to tolerate serious failure for very long. But for now, Cook’s Apple may be a nicer place to work, without needless departures from the key corporate goals of selling trend-setting products and making loads of money.



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