It's been a steady-state phenomena of Apple for years. A small executive team of senior vice presidents has presided over Apple ever since Steve Jobs returned to power. As the company has grown from $6B in annual revenues in 2001 to $182B in 2014, the size of the core executive team, where all the real power is, has not changed significantly. Today, Apple is suffering for it.
In several notable cases, Apple appears asleep at the wheel.
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Apple's executive team of senior vice presidents calls all the shots. While there may be many distinguished and capable (ordinary) vice presidents, sometimes a few get into trouble by believing they have more authority than they really do. The VP job is designed, at Apple, to execute a vision, not create one. If they don't realize that quickly, they're gone.
One of the symptoms of an executive team of senior vice presidents that's too small is that attention tends to be focused on the big picture things that really matter, while small to medium sized things can fall through the cracks. While that's a reasonable strategy for a small team, it also means that only high risk grandiose projects get attention.
And the larger the project, the grander the scope, the more likely it is that there will also be grave difficulties. We've seen that with the technical glitches in Apple Music and, previously, MobileMe (which drew the extreme ire of Steve Jobs).
Asleep at the Wheel?
Giving up power is hard to do. When Steve returned to Apple, he saw a company full of senior executives either padding their pockets while the company suffered or else they had no crisp vision of what Apple is all about. Mr. Jobs released all those executives and put a small team in place, many from NeXT, that he trusted. That tradition carries on today.
A casualty of this limited seat of power is that the details of a huge corporation start to escape notice. Here are a few.
- The networking disaster of Yosemite 10.0 which abruptly parted from the tried-and-true Unix underpinnings. Its has since been fixed in 10.10.5.
- An embarrassing state of affairs with Apple's aging Thunderbolt display, not updated since 2011.
- The unpleasant state of iTunes— too big, too confusing and too buggy.
- Google's surprise, bold move with the OnHub Wi-Fi router—the one Apple should have given us.
- An Apple TV that lingered since 2012 without any significant technology development. Now, a report says that the Apple TV has fallen into 4th place, in terms of streaming, behind the Amazon Fire TV. We will likely see generation four announced in September, but as Microsoft found out with its Windows Phone, it's hard to come from behind.
I attribute these gaffes to an executive team that's too small and can only deal with the grandest issues. Meanwhile, the little things that are important to everyday customers that cause frustration continue to mount.