If Tim Cook could apologize, why not Scott Forstall?

Sending a message about accountability and a no prima donna policy, the CEO puts his stamp on Apple.

It wasn't that Apple CEO Tim Cook was ever viewed as Mr. Nice Guy. He was more mild-mannered and less mercurial than the late Steve Jobs, but his job was to squeeze the life out of suppliers and sharpen Apple's manufacturing operations to increase margins and profits.

A year after Jobs' death, he has now cemented his authority with his first major management shuffle, terminating John Browett, the retail chief he hired (thus cutting his losses) and getting rid of what some viewed as a toxic executive in the person of Scott Forstall, his iOS chief.

Cook also retrieved Bob Mansfield, who had announced plans to retire as the chief of hardware for the company in June. So now it's starting to look more like Cook's team, even though its members were elevated by his legendary predecessor. Now, after one of the company's more important executive suite shuffles in recent years, three questions about Apple come to mind.

  • Did Tim Cook really force 15-year veteran Scott Forstall's exit from Apple over a refusal to apologize for the recent mapping screw-up?

    Apple's not commenting but the storyline described in some really good reporting (here and here and here) suggests that Forstall was not at all interested in joining in a public apology over the embarassing bugs found in Apple's mapping software . Given that Forstall sold off a boatload of Apple stock last May, Forstall could afford to go his own way.

    But this also presented Cook with an opportunity to shed what analysts describe as a consensus-led management style and make the point that Apple's a company where this CEO is first among equals. He would just be following a precedent set by Jobs. The maps issue was perhaps the tipping point, allowing Cook to consolidate, simplify, and get rid of someone who apparently was creating too many waves in his organization.

    "We have one (industrial design) organization. We have one hardware organization. We have one marketing organization. It's not like we're this big company with all these divisions that are cranking out independent products. We're simpletons." [The Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2012]

  • If Cook could apologize, why couldn't Forstall?

    By all accounts, Forstall was good at his job, but he wasn't as indispensable as, say, Jony Ive. Apple has some of the most loyal customers in the tech industry, but they were royally ticked off by the mapping mess.

    Waving away the uproar over the maps fiasco as exaggerated suggests a big blind spot. Jobs hired people who created conflict and didn't always play well with others in the organization but still contributed to the overarching goal of ending up with better products than the competition. But Jobs also was the final arbiter and he tolerated pains in the neck if they got the job done -- and clearly, Forstall did good work over the years.

    The issue here is Cook putting his stamp on the organization and not tolerating problem children who create conflict rather than solve problems. So if Cook could apologize, why not Forstall?

  • Add A and B together and doesn't the inescapable conclusion point to a CEO putting his stamp on Apple?

    History is a moving target, but if you're looking for a point in time when Cook came into his own, this moment qualifies. As my colleagues Roger Cheng and Josh Lowensohn note elsewhere today, kicking out Forstall and Browett was a big move.

    Cook doesn't come off as someone who enjoys the spotlight. He is a low-key, charisma-challenged technocrat who has spent most of his career in operations, driving down costs and increasing production efficiencies. That's the same philosophy Cook has adopted since becoming the boss.

    But if Cook lacks the charisma and genius of his legendary predecessor, he also showed with the management shake-up that he has an iron fist in reshuffling Apple's executive ranks. For Apple, which faces myriad new challenges this fall, that's an encouraging harbinger.

 

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