Apple Execs Take The Blame For Apple’s Flaws

Peter Judge

Two executives are being laid off by Apple. The one common factor is they are taking the blame for Apple’s failures, says Peter Judge

It looks like the black polo necks are off at Apple, and it’s really moving into the post-Jobs era – but what exactly does that mean?

The departures of Scott Forstal and John Browettl are full of contradictions. Are they signs of a new direction, or just confusion at the world’s largest publicly traded company?

So Apple it hurts

scott forstall Apple top

Forstall “never fit in with the culture at Apple”, an insider told the Wall Street Journal.

What? He’d been there for 15 years, led the iPhone project for most of its life, and was a founder engineer of Mac OS X. He was at the heart of the Jobs-driven renaissance of the company 15 years ago, joining as part of Apple’s purchase of Steve Jobs’ start up NeXT Computer.

And on top of that, he is widely described as ambitious, divisive and possessed of a massive ego. He wanted the iPhone division to be working on “big ideas” instead of just repeating things.

We’ve never met the man, but all that (including the ego) makes him a perfect fit for the Apple corporate culture. He was often described as a “mini-Steve” and was once seen as Jobs’ heir apparent, before Apple appointed Tim Cook, not much more than a year ago. He was certainly one of the faithful few expected to carry on the Apple tradition when Jobs handed over the reins.

If Forstall didn’t fit in with the Apple culture, the Pope is a Branch Davidian.

Even the way he left shows him behaving exactly as Jobs would have done, refusing to apologise to customers for the Apple Maps cock-up, just as Jobs preferred to blame the iPhone 4 antenna problems on the users who were supposedly holding the device wrongly.

We have sympathy for Forstall here. An inadequate Apple Maps was pushed out by corporate fiat, driven by a desire to shake off dependence on Google Maps. It looks more like Forstall is a scapegoat – and a convenient one if he really was so disliked that anonymous Apple insiders are speaking of actual celebrations at his exit.

Maybe his departure is a sign that a new Apple is emerging, where Tim Cook is doing things differently to how Jobs would have done them. The new Apple apologises and adopts defensive roles with Google, among other things.

In this version, Forstall was kicked out, not because he didn’t fit the corporate culture, but because he didn’t fit the new one.

What about the man from Dixons?

But there’s a problem with this story. If this is Tim Cook making his mark on the new Apple, what happened to John Browett? Browett was supposed to be Cook’s star appointment, but that’s all gone pear shaped in no time at all.

Cook took Browett, the head of Dixons Retail, praised his commitment to customer service (though in the UK, this was drowned by the sniggers of Dixons customers) and buried him an vast drift of money ($56 million in a golden hello) to come and shake up Apple Stores worldwide.

What Browett did wrong seems to have involved mishandling some changes to staffing at Apple Stores. Many part-time workers were laid off or had their hours cut, and then Apple had to do a U-turn and reinstated them. Meanwhile, there seems to be anger among Apple Store workers over a change in their bonus arrangements – they are now incentivised on revenue rather than customer satisfaction, according to 9to5Mac.

Just months into the job, we doubt these were all Browett’s own ideas. It seems more likely he is taking the rap for the way they were received. And now he is gone, apparently the Stores all report directly to Tim Cook.

If there is any common factor between the two sackings,  it is blame.  Let’s boil it down, and stretch a couple of points.

  • Forstall seems to be a scapegoat for Apple’s failure to be as good as Google.
  • Browett is taking the rap when people don’t like Apple’s naked greed in retail.

Greed and technological failure are simply parts of what Apple has to deal with right now. Sacking people won’t change that – though I suppose it might clear the decks for starting to address them.

Worryingly, the sackings might be part of a denial process, though, which expects a reality distortion field to smooth things out when Apple makes a mistake.

If that’s the case, this isn’t really a sign of a new Apple. Just more of the old Apple.

How well do you know Apple?  Try our quiz!