updated 07:30 pm EDT, Sat May 7, 2011
Apple corporate structure gets detailed look
An in-depth study of Apple's corporate structure has uncovered previously secret details about both the 2008 fallout over MobileMe, how CEO Steve Jobs has been preparing for his eventual exit, and a potential clue as to a major project. Following the major service problems after MobileMe launched alongside the iPhone 3G, Jobs reportedly assembled the entire MobileMe team and asked them "what MobileMe is supposed to do," according to Fortune. After an explanation, he simply responded "so why the f*** doesn't it do that?"
He further accused the staff of "tarnishing Apple's reputation" and told them that one of his favorite reviewers, the WSJ's Walt Mossberg, was "no longer writing good things about us."
The structure of the company is currently focused heavily around Jobs, the magazine found. Development invariably hinges around a team preparing to make a presentation to Jobs that either pleases him or leads them to go back and redesign an element. His persona was unflatteringly cast as that of "corporate dictator" who always has final say on major decisions and makes decisions based on personal taste, such as the menu at 1 Infinite Loop's Caffé Macs.
Apple's CEO has nonetheles set up a clear level of responsibilities and expectations that doesn't exist at rivals. Unlike RIM's multiple CEOs and other duplicate executives, Apple insists on having a DRI, or Directly Responsible Individual, who employees know is the go-to source for a given product or task. He meets twice with executives every week, on Monday to review key projects and Wednesdays to reach communications and marketing staff. Teams whose projects reach near-final stages are encouraged to take any steps needed to perfect the product, including the iMovie team hiring the London Symphony Orchestra to record iMovie's pre-made soundtracks and on-location video shoots in Hawaii and San Francisco for fake weddings to be used as demo material.
Jobs has also been taking some steps suggesting he's at least aware of the need for talented vice presidents once he leaves. Each new VP is given a 'parable' of the difference between a janitor and executives. VPs and higher have to assume responsibility for any failure, regardless of whether or not there was a good reason for it happening, he tells newcomers.
"Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn’t have a key," the magazine said. "This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. Senior people do not. 'When you’re the janitor,' Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, 'reasons matter.' He continues: 'Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.' That 'Rubicon,' he has said, 'is crossed when you become a VP.'"
More directly, Jobs has created Apple University, a school run by ex-Yale professor Joel Podolny and ex-Harvard professor Richard Tedlow to teach corporate decision making based on real-world examples both inside and outside of Apple. Among the examples specific to Apple were its decision to enter retail in 2001 and a choice to initially focus iPhone manufacturing on one Foxconn factory. Courses are taught by executives who in many cases were responsible for the policies in question, such as retail VP Ron Johnson or COO Tim Cook.
Apple University has helped both keep the company's hierarchy in sync and, most likely, ensured that any successor to Jobs would understand the basics of his philosophy before assuming the top spot.
A handful of extra details were mentioned, including small revelations: the online Apple Store manager has to defer to the graphic arts team for photos, according to the magazine, and that it only took two people to port Safari from the iPhone to the iPad.
In a tease, the article also hinted at a vital task that required Jobs hiring a "band of eggheads" just before his current medical leave, though what this was hasn't yet been uncovered. It may tie into the upcoming iCloud service but could also be specific hardware or long-term research.
Apple organizational structure; note Apple University head Joel Podolny in gray, upper right. Image via Fortune