Tim Cook’s juggling of Apple’s executive ranks could be a sign that the company, built around the vision and imperious leadership of co-founder Steve Jobs, is having difficulty identifying strong leaders within its own ranks.
Over the past two months, CEO Tim Cook has been busy realigning his senior ranks, reportedly ousting controversial iOS head Scott Forstall and retail chief John Browlett. More recently, Internet software and services leader Richard Williamson resigned following the debacle with Apple Maps.
“Apple is the place where Steve made all the big decisions and all the small ones,” says Jon Holman, president of executive search firm The Holman Group says. “At these kinds of companies, you tend to have followers. If you tried to exert yourself, then you ran into Steve. There is one school of thought that there are no great leaders at Apple, because Steve did not allow it.”
Given the typical course followed by new CEOs, the departures and their timing at Apple come as no surprise. “When a new CEO is promoted, probably no one is fired right away. But within a year, whether due to chemistry or some other reason, there’s probably one or two people on the senior management team, who will either quit or are fired,” notes Holman.
Forstall exited roughly a year after Jobs’s death and less than 18 months into Cook’s tenure as CEO. Forstall, who reportedly has a combative personality, apparently was also tied to the Maps debacle as iOS chief.
Under Cook, Apple also recruited controversial retail head Browlett, whose own hiring practices were called into question and reversed. The former CEO of Dixons Retail in the UK, Browlett abruptly resigned only seven months after arriving.
Although no CEO should be considered infallible, it’s fair to wonder what role Cook had in vetting the capabilities of Apple Maps, which debuted with iOS 6 earlier this year. “You would have thought Apple would have used 250 of its employees to test its new software for several months, before locking out Google maps,” Holman says. “If there are two more blunders like this, the board may be asking themselves if they have the right man as CEO in Tim Cook.”
Holman doubts Cook will suddenly become a micro-manager on the level of the late Jobs. However, it’s yet to be seen if he can find strong leaders in-house. For Cook, this means he’ll have to pick his inner circle carefully if he’s to continue as Steve Jobs’s successor.