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.
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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