Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Manager Mystique

Peter Burrows and Ian King, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is known for producing great products, like the iPod. Now Google Inc. with its acquisition of Nest Labs Inc. and its Apple alumni founder Tony Fadell, is hoping it produces great leaders who can replicate that success as well.

It’s a gamble that has proved disappointing for companies from Palm Inc. to J.C. Penney Co.

Burrows and King are, of course, referring to the hiring of Jon Rubinstein and Ron Johnson, respectively.

The premise of this article seems to be that hiring former Apple executives to run a division or a company isn’t the hole-in-one quick fix that it may seem, but Burrows and King don’t provide enough context as to why this is. Later in the article, they admit that there are former Apple employees who go on to great success:

Bertrand Serlet, who was Apple’s senior vice president of Mac software, co-founded a cloud-computing company called UpThere. Mike Matas, who worked as part of the original iPhone software design team, left to found Push Pop Press, which was acquired by Facebook Inc. Evan Doll, another member of that group, co-founded news-reading application company Flipboard in 2010.

There’s a key difference between the first group and this second one: Rubenstein and Johnson were brought on to try to fix companies that were already doing poorly.1 Fadell, on the other hand, belongs in the latter group of Apple employees who founded companies. None of the people in this category had the burden of trying to right a sinking ship, so they could get on with the job of making great products.


  1. The Rubenstein-led Palm produced the Pre, which was one hell of a great phone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t financially successful, but the UI ideas in WebOS continue to have an effect on mobile interface design. It was the Sunny Day Real Estate of operating systems. ↩︎