Why Some High-Profile Hires Don’t Thrive at Apple

| Editorial

Page 2 – A Personal Story From Apple

A related example of something that happened to me is instructive because it’s a mild mix of some of the above factors.

Apple Paradox

It was November, 2003. As a federal account executive, I was at the annual Supercomputing conference in Phoenix with many from the Federal sales team. One of my major federal customers (not the photo below) was also there with his small team. My boss and I arranged an NDA meeting. The backstory is that Apple was preparing to convert the Xserve from PowerPC to Intel, but few outside the company knew this at the time.

John with a customer's small cluster of Xserves.

Author with customer’s small cluster of Xserves.

When it came time for the Xserve product manager to brief my customer on the secret Intel-based Xserves, I was directed to leave the room. The reason was that account executives, responsible for sales to their customers, were not deemed eligible to learn about such deep Apple secrets.

I pondered what kind of a message this sent to my customer. The Apple exec most in touch with their problems, plans and needs wasn’t trusted by Apple. It was especially troubling to me because I had come from Lockheed Martin Astronautics where I held a security clearance. I was infuriated.

I came close to quitting. My boss talked me out of it.

In hindsight, I can see how limits had to be set somewhere on how deep into the organization chart Apple’s deepest secrets could be divulged. But it’s also easy to see how such a determination by Apple’s most senior executives could still rub a sales executive, responsible for his sales quota, the wrong way. Paradoxes like this are either handled by the new hires or not. Some come to to the conclusion that the glory of working to change the world at Apple is incompatible with their personal values or needs.

Later, right here at TMO, I saw variations of this theme. Occasionally, a prospective senior hire would contact me, as a writer, and ask “What’s it like to work for Apple?” Sometimes, despite my counsel, unbounded enthusiasm turned to disillusionment and they lasted a year or so.

On the other hand, some personality types respond well to the Apple atmosphere, and we hear about beloved employees who spend an entire career at Apple. It just depends on who they work for in the org chart, how they (and their families) adjust, and how their personality fits in.

Final Thoughts

I’m not saying any of this is what happened with Ms. Matsuoka, The Bloomberg article by Mark Gurman didn’t provide any details. Remember, sometimes people must leave a company for family, health, career or other perfectly respectable reasons. Accordingly, I want to affirm that not every executive departure from Apple should be taken as an ominous sign regarding Apple’s future intentions.

People change jobs and careers depending on their personal dreams and goals. Sometimes those are fulfilled at Apple. And sometimes, no matter how cool Apple is as a company, the human side of the equation makes for a bad fit. This is when we get a chance to refrain from wild speculation and express values of our own: respect and understanding.

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John: These are very useful insights, and the cautionary guidance about surmising or assuming that a departure signals company loss of interest or a direction change applies to other aspects of Apple’s business (and not only Apple, but any corporation or institution). It could just as well be a consolidation of activities that, having matured, have a natural fit together under one umbrella, require a different focus (which may or may not be part of a given leader’s core skill set), or be for very personal reasons, including what for them is a superior opportunity elsewhere. Your description of Apple’s… Read more »