Why Apple gave 2 execs the boot

CEO Tim Cook is asserting himself and shaping the company to his vision. That means clearing out some leaders who aren't meeting his expectations.

By Kim Peterson Oct 30, 2012 6:20PM
At Apple (AAPL), all roads lead to CEO Tim Cook. He deserves the praise when the company does well, as it has for much of Cook's time at the helm, but he also must answer when problems arise.

And so when the company came under fire for a jaw-droppingly inferior mapping system, Cook apologized to customers and even suggested they use maps from Google (GOOG) instead. When investors saw operating margins in its retail store operations fall to 23% from more than 25%, they looked to Cook for guidance.
Cook took the heat -- and then he went back to the executive ranks and applied some heat of his own, showing two top lieutenants the door. Scott Forstall, the senior vice president in charge of mobile software -- including maps -- was gone. Forstall had refused to sign a public apology about the maps incident, leaving Cook to assume the blame, The New York Times reported.

Also fired was John Browett, who was mere months into his position as head of retail operations. This move was somewhat expected, as Browett ran into trouble on the job after experimenting with staffing levels at the company's stores. "Making these changes was a mistake and the changes are being reversed," an Apple spokeswoman told Dow Jones. "Our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve."

The message here? If Cook or Apple must apologize for something that happened on your watch, you're on thin ice.

But there's more to it. The public rarely gets a peek behind the executive curtain at Apple. Now, we see in a very dramatic way how Cook is asserting himself as CEO. Knocking Forstall out is a surprise, but perhaps it had to be done. Forstall, a divisive, boyish-looking manager in his 40s, has been called a mini-Steve Jobs. "He's a hard-driving manager who obsesses over every detail," Businessweek reports.

He is said to be a polarizing figure, one Businessweek describes as "maddeningly political," and one who reportedly irritated other members of the executive team to the point where they avoided meetings with him.

One senior employee told the Times that people at the company were ecstatic about Forstall's departure. "This was better than the Giants winning the World Series," the employee said. "People are really excited."

Perhaps also telling, as John Gruber points out, is that Apple's press release announcing the management changes had no kind words or thanks from Cook. "Forstall is not walking away; he was pushed," writes Gruber, who has a great deal of insight into the company. "Potential factors that worked against Forstall: his design taste, engineering management, abrasive style, and the whole iOS 6 Maps thing. I also wonder how much Forstall was effectively protected by his close relationship with Steve Jobs -- protection which, obviously, no longer exists."

With Forstall out, Cook has effectively seized total control over Apple. He has only been in the top job since August of last year, and really hadn't made many executive changes over that time. He was the one who approved Browett's hiring, and this week's move shows how quickly Cook will back down from one of his own hires if necessary.

Now, Apple is Cook's show instead of being the company Steve Jobs left behind. And that's exactly the way it should be.

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Tags: AAPLGOOG
4Comments
Oct 30, 2012 9:38PM
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Tim Cook made the correct decisions on both counts.  I have followed Apple very closely since prior to even 1984 and have experienced all the ups and downs as closely as an interested outside person could do.  The Executive Team is fully capable as are the Apple employees.  Apple will clearly lead and move ahead. The stakes are very high and The Executive Team will move forward and lead.  They have the rare luxury of being able to make the best decisions for the company and the money to do it with now.  Look for Tim Cook and others to lead.
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I think it is safe to say that Apple has seen it's high and the stock will continue down over the next few years. When Apple announced their stock buy back was one of the first moves to indicate the stock future is down. One major reasons for stock buy backs is to keep EPS up by removing the number of shares in the market. 
Oct 30, 2012 10:15PM
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Sounds like Apple (Cook) didn't give software development enough time to do maps right and wanted to tie the chicken around their neck for the screw up.  IF Apple had done the QA and execs knew it was not finished then Cook should've been released not Scott Forstall. Sounds to me like Scott got setup because he wouldn't play the political games that aholes at the top love to play. If Apple let politics destroy egos then Apple is doomed. I'll bet Jobs would've handled it much different since Scott was his protege.
Oct 30, 2012 10:54PM
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Very presumptuous that Apple gave Forstall the boot. Forstall sold 95% of his stock last May. Forstall was Jobs protege. Forstall is worth $40 million and has a resume most software exces would kill for. He told Tim Cook last May, I'm leaving in 6 months and don't care how you announce it. It's not fun here anymore. Screw the rest of those executives and their selfish feeling. Good job, Scott Forstall.
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