With changes, Apple's Cook takes decisive action for future

With changes, Apple's Cook takes decisive action for future

Summary: Apple's recent executive changes show a company configuring itself for the next decade -- and a chief executive who won't tolerate internecine warfare.

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TOPICS: Apple
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As Hurricane Sandy reconfigured the eastern seaboard of the United States, so did Apple chief executive Tim Cook, dismissing longtime exec Scott Forstall (most recently head of iOS) and retail chief John Browett in a series of executive changes announced last night.

Much will be made of the personality clashes that serve as the undercurrent to these changes, but the key takeaway here is that Tim Cook is circling the wagons after a rocky year in which the monolithic company began to reveal fissures.

That's why Jony Ive, Bob Mansfield, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi will add more responsibilities to their roles at the company -- it seems that Cook thought there were too many cooks in the kitchen, with the result manifesting in products that increasingly grew apart.

Here's Fast Company's Austin Carr on just one battle, over skeuomorphic design, where digital things imitate the real-life objects they replace:

Inside Apple, tension has brewed for years over the issue. Apple iOS SVP Scott Forstall is said to push for skeuomorphic design, while industrial designer Jony Ive and other Apple higher-ups are said to oppose the direction. "You could tell who did the product based on how much glitz was in the UI," says one source intimately familiar with Apple's design process.

Apple's products will always be the collective effort of many people, but it's up to the company's leadership to smooth the edges so that the patchwork effect isn't jarring to the customer. In the paragraph above, you can see teams beginning to push their own agendas rather than an agreed-upon direction for the product as a whole. That's usually the first step toward corporate catastrophe.

(If you want to read more on the various storylines, read posts by Om Malik, John Gruber and reports by Jess Lessin and Nicks Wingfield and Bilton. All take different angles on this story.)

I'd like to focus on Cook. Here, we see the chief executive begin to change what he had been handed in the wake of former chief executive Steve Jobs' death. Many of the names mentioned above were hand-picked by Jobs for roles at that moment; here, Cook is heading off further trouble at the pass with decisive action. Perhaps his only regret might be letting some of that internal tension manifest itself in the products, from UI design philosophy to the Maps fiasco to whatever else might be out there.

No matter. The house that Steve built is becoming the house that Cook built, albeit slowly. So far, both eras seem to share the same philosophy of simplification: instead of allowing Apple's various branches to grow in their respective directions, Cook has reaffirmed the company's course (and values) by pruning what's out of line. It's not necessarily the best management strategy, but it has worked well for Apple.

One last point: none of these changes address the company's recent quality control issues. Cook may have excised conflict from the top ranks of his company, but a higher bar of expectation starts with him. Half-baked products are a company culture issue. That starts with Cook.

Photo: Kent German/CNET

Topic: Apple

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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18 comments
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  • signs the the ship is taking water

    just like M$, Apple will soon go down at the hands of FOSS: Linux and Android
    LlNUX Geek
    • Wow

      Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)
      ........http://goo.gl/0fzJS
      BallBond
    • The Hell??

      Is this ZDNet now?
      fhrivers
    • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

      Microsoft has not gone down at the hands of FOSS... nor will Apple. It's funy however that you count Android as a Linux product when it comes to sales figures and market share but deny it is a Linux product when the malware issues come up. Why is that?
      athynz
    • Yes

      I thought that was obvious. Power to Linux!
      Alexander Xavi
  • No, this is bad for Apple

    Cook is doing nothing more than disposing of rivals. He is deaf to the voices of critics, at a time when the corporation is rightly being criticised. Apple has peaked and must now face decline like Nokia and RIM.

    Apple is trying to spin this as a good news story. It's a shame commentators pass on the propaganda line without scrutiny.
    Tim Acheson
    • There is a good point hidden in this FUD

      (I say FUD not to insult but because you mention "the critics" but fail to explain the criticism. If Apple was criticized over Maps and Cook ditched the exec responsible for them, is it not responding to criticism? Just asking, because I don't understand your first point.)

      What you infer, and what's worth discussing further, is just how much conflict a company is willing to bear within its ranks. Positive conflict is what happens when a lot of good ideas from different viewpoints come to the same table and generate an agreed-upon solution; negative conflict is when people feel that their ideas are ignored and the company is headed in the wrong direction.

      Ditch all the personalities and you've got a lot of followers and few leaders -- a military-like situation that prioritizes execution over strategy. I don't think this is the case at Apple, given how respected its other executives are in their respective disciplines (e.g. Jony Ive), but it's worth mentioning relative to your comment about "disposing of rivals."
      andrew.nusca
      • Well, you have very valid points there.

        Keeping apart from FUD view, the two paragraphs you made in the rest of the comment have good points. I just want to add few to your.
        1. Positive conflict - may keep the company in a balanced state and bring out good products. The heads will not leave the company unless there is a compelling offer from somewhere. This keeps the momentum and may actually lead to transformation of the company into more successful.
        2. Negative conflict - will sink the ship because some of the heads will lose their jobs, and the followers in that groups would be under pressure until they get used to the newer stewardship. This where the leadership of the company may look like it is going under autocratic system or beaurocratic. The newer leadership needs to prove itself and know their assets, strengths and weaknesses. If the leadership fails in understanding this, or takes lot of time, it may fail. In these situations, a lot of new leaders take side of transactional, but it will fail because transactional leadership, eventhough it is not bad, puts lot of pressure on the team and weakens the team relationship. In these situations, the new leader should follow servant leadership rules.

        If you start disposing your rivals, it will go to autocratic system and the entire system may fail. You need some critics always, who may sound bitter, but will give great boon to the ecosystem of the organization.
        Ram U
    • Yeah, Apple has peaked....

      Better people than you have counted Apple out many times, but guess what? There still doing very well.
      GoPower
    • Deaf to their critics

      What was the criticism? Who are the critics that Apple is deaf to? How is this bad for Apple? Cook is preserving the culture of all departments working together rather than having them compete with one another - THAT is how Apple was prior to the ouster of Steve Jobs. It was his focus on a smaller product line and eliminating the inter-company rivalries that helped Apple to focus on their goals and become the company they are today. But sure, okay Apple is going in the wrong direction despite that direction having made it the most successful tech company.
      athynz
      • Really?

        Apple is a successful tech company, but to call it ‘the most successful’ is a bit of a reach.

        Apple missed the mark with the iPhone 5. What is should have done (in my humble opinion) was to give it better battery life. I do not recall any of my friends that had iPhone 4’s pr the 4S model complaining that it was too thick.

        Another improvement would be to make it sound better, as in when you make a telephone call on it. (Remember: it’s a phone!) How about making it as clear sounding as the cheap land-line phones you can but anywhere for under $15?

        Now you’d be getting somewhere.
        JimmyGee252
  • Apple in self-destruct mode

    Forstall led Apple's most successful product, and was the corporation's best potential CEO. It's no coincidence that he is leaving in controversy just as the first cracks begin to show.

    There are two sides to every story. It's unlikely we'll ever hear both sides of this one. Even if the Maps apology story is true, it's reasonable to assume that he had compelling reasons not to sign, e.g. sticking to his principles, and because in reality the buck actually stops with Cook not him.
    Tim Acheson
    • Let's see what you have to say in a year

      Oracle of nothing.
      GoPower
  • iOS in decline

    Meanwhile, Apple's latest results are disappointing and show a heavy reliance on iOS and especially iPhone which is now being eclipsed by much cheaper and much better devices.
    Tim Acheson
    • FUD or Troll Statement?

      Care to give data to support your claims about iOS and iPhone? How about the reception CIOs are giving Windows 8? Now, THAT'S being SO well-accepted...
      Just curious: Just what is a CEO supposed to do with an abrasive subordinate who apparently wasn't a team player? One of the other reports stated that Browett's firing was well received by the rank and file. Having served in the Army, I guarantee that if the troops are glad to see a superior leave, he or she should have left long before.
      You read either like someone who loves FUD or like a Micro$oft troll.
      wnematollahi
  • Two sides to every story

    There are two sides to every story. We may never hear both sides of this one. If he refused to sign an apology for one of Apple's recent series of epic failures, it's reasonable to conclude that he had compelling reasons -- e.g. the buck actually stops with him and not his boss.
    Tim Acheson
  • Decline

    Yes Apple's still doing well, in the big picture. However there is certainly lots of indication that its on the down side of its peak. Personally I find it funny that financial success in this industry seems to contain the seeds of self destruction. MS long ago started its decline and no Windows 8's radical approach, Surface, Windows phone is going to save it from its continued failure to again be a the top of market, with a bright future. Apple is showing the identical behaviour that got MS here. Whether is the iPhone 4 fiasco, Maps or myriad other problems with their products. Yes they have successfully transcended business into religion for a specific demographic, but they have definitely started on the path to continued decline. Personally, I am willing to admit that their UI, being designed for the lowest common denominator, has been quite terrific. However my iPhone 4 is leaves a lot to be desired as a telephone and its reliability has proven to be abysmal.
    Christopher@...
  • I have new found respect for Tim Cook

    I will be the first one to say that Apple has stumbled since Jobs' death but Tim Cook did the right thing by admitting Apple's mistake and by getting rid of these guys.

    I am still going to switch from the iPhone 4 to Windows Phone 8 (hopefully the Nokia 920 if it ever comes to Verizon) but I have new found respect for Apple and Tim Cook.
    Burger Meister