Surprise: Retail Chief Leaving After Just 6 Months

October 29, 2012

After six months of turmoil over management style and direction within Apple’s retail store operation, the company announced today that Sr. V-P Retail John Browett will be leaving the company. The news was immediately greeted with relief from many store employees, who have felt Browett valued revenues and profit instead of Apple’s core retail value of providing an excellent customer experience. In a press release Apple said only, “John Browett is leaving the company.” No explanation or timeline for his departure was provided. In the interim, the retail team will report directly to Tim Cook while Browett’s replacement is recruited, the company said. To provide some measure of confidence in the retail operation, the company added, “Apple’s Retail organization has an incredibly strong network of leaders at the store and regional level who will continue the excellent work that has been done over the past decade to revolutionize retailing with unique, innovative services for customers.” In an email sent to employees within an hour of the news, CEO Tim Cook reiterated the wording of the press release, and added, “This phenomenal team of talented and dedicated people works their hearts out making our customers happy. They have our respect, our admiration and our undying support.”

Browett was recruited last year from UK retailer Dixons, in the period before former Sr. V-P Ron Johnson left the company to head J.C. Penney, and before the death of Steve Jobs. He officially took office last April 20th, lured by the promise of stock grants totaling 100,000 shares.

But, according to government filings, Browett collected just 5,000 of those shares, effective October 20th. Browett immediately sold 2,159 shares as part of federal tax withholding, leaving him with 2,841 shares worth about $1.73 million to account for his six months on the job.

Almost immediately after Browett started work at Apple, sources began telling stories of new cost-cutting measures and a first-ever emphasis on sales over service, all implemented by Browett. The sources reported the changes were made over the objections of several high-level retail veterans within the company, who advised that profit-over-service would prove disastrous for Apple retail.

Browett attended the Amsterdam (Netherlands), Passeig de Gràcia (Spain) and Wangfujing (Beijing) store grand openings earlier this year. However, he did not attend last week’s iPad mini debut event or last Saturday’s Palo Alto 2 grand re-opening where Tim Cook made an appearance.

There is speculation that the short-notice cancellation of last week’s annual Retail Team Conference in Phoenix is somehow related to Browett’s departure.

Read the full company press release that details several other personnel changes in other Apple work groups.

Here is the full email that Apple CEO Tim Cook sent to employees:

Team,

We are in one of the most prolific periods of innovation and new products in Apple’s history. The amazing products that we’ve introduced in September and October – iPhone 5, iOS6, iPad mini, iPad, iMac, MacBook Pro, iPod touch, iPod nano and many of our applications – could only have been created at Apple, and are the direct result of our relentless focus on tightly integrating world-class hardware, software and services.Today, I am announcing changes that will encourage even more collaboration between our world-class hardware, software and services teams at all levels of our company. As part of these changes, Jony Ive, Bob Mansfield, Eddy Cue, and Craig Federighi will be taking on more responsibilities. I am also announcing that Scott Forstall will be leaving Apple next year and will serve as an advisor to me during the interim. I want to thank Scott for all of his many contributions to Apple over his career.

Jony Ive will provide leadership and direction for Human Interface (HI) across the company in addition to his longtime role as the leader of Industrial Design. Jony has an incredible design aesthetic and has been the driving force behind the look and feel of our products for more than a decade. The face of many of our products is our software and the extension of Jony’s skills into this area will widen the gap between Apple and our competition.

Eddy Cue will take on the additional responsibility of Siri and Maps. This places all of our online services in one group. Eddy and his organization have overseen major successes such as the iTunes Store, the App Store, the iBookstore and iCloud. They have an excellent track record of building and strengthening our online services to meet and exceed the high expectations of our customers.

Craig Federighi will lead both iOS and OS X. We have the most advanced mobile and desktop operating systems on the planet, and bringing together our OS teams will make it even easier to deliver our best technology and user experience innovations to both platforms. Craig recently led the very successful release of Mountain Lion.

Bob Mansfield will lead a new group, Technologies, which combines all of our wireless teams across the company in one organization, allowing us to innovate in this area at an even higher level. This organization will also include all of our semiconductor teams, who have some very ambitious plans. As part of this, I am thrilled to tell you that Bob will remain with Apple for an additional two years. Bob has led some of our most challenging engineering projects for many years.

Additionally, John Browett is leaving Apple. Our search for a new head of Retail is already underway. In the meantime, the Retail team will report directly to me. Retail has an incredibly strong network of leaders at the store and regional level, and they will continue the excellent work they’ve done over the past decade to revolutionize retailing with unique, innovative services and a focus on the customer that is second to none. This phenomenal team of talented and dedicated people works their hearts out making our customers happy. They have our respect, our admiration and our undying support.

Please join me in congratulating everyone on their new roles.

I’d like to thank everyone for working so hard so that Apple can continue to make the world’s best products and delight our customers. I continue to believe that Apple has the most talented and most innovative people on the planet, and I feel privileged and inspired to be able to work with all of you.

Best,

Tim

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

jen October 29, 2012 at 1526

FIRST!

even though he’s gone; it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
as a soon to be ex-employee of apple; i’m sad to say i’ve busted my butt (along with many others) part-time CRAZY work for measly pay… while this jack-ass gets 1.7 million for his sh*tty handling of a good thing? screw that; and screw browett.

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Mr. Bartlett October 29, 2012 at 1529

Alright, this is good. Now, what’s next?

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Jerry October 29, 2012 at 1543

They say the only thing wrong with making mistakes is not making them fast enough. It’s good to see that Tim Cook made the call after 6 months; that’s a fair amount of time for Browett to make it work.

Unfortunately Browett’s tenure brought with it a fair amount of griping in the comments section from people working in Apple Retail. I hope the next head of Apple Retail is able to pinpoint those employees who don’t want to be there; there appear to be a great deal (too) many and if jobs at Apple Stores are as hard to come by as they used to say (more selective than Harvard?) there should be no shortage of eager replacements.

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jen October 29, 2012 at 1553

jobs @ apple (retail or corporate) are definitely hard to come by. 4 interviews just for a retail position (can’t imagine corporate level). but to see the transition over time from a service to sales first concept… was just backwards thinking. i’ve had customers saying i don’t want to be 1 of 6 people being helped at the same time… i want that one on one sales interaction that you are KNOWN and RESPECTED for.

to try and service quantity instead of quality has really impacted the staff as a whole… even for those who LOVE and BLEED apple… moreso than affluenced individuals with a good ‘looking’ paper resume. the really sad part is that the people that are leaving are the people that DO really want to be there.

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Actual employee October 31, 2012 at 1453

So calling out that this guy was destroying Apple’s whole culture and customer focus is worthy of being fired.

For the love of mike where do you work so I can avoid even thinking about it.

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Ernie October 29, 2012 at 1652

It is indeed a great day to hear that Browett is gone. He was well on his way to gutting the vision of Retail that Steve and Ron set out in 2001, and it’s good to see that Tim realized John’s hiring was a mistake and has ended what will be seen as a depressing chapter in the continuing saga of Apple Retail. If only Tim could find it in his heart to go about deepening the purge to the ML and SL level; there are more than a few others who need to go. It’s a chance to clear out SL’s who lead by fear and intimidation and owe their current positions of power in a flagship store to the fact that they destroyed anyone that got in their way. Come on Tim! Dig deeper! My fellow LA Apple Retail employees will thank you!

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GenX October 29, 2012 at 1955

Hmmmmmmmm…I wonder who you could be talking about…………………………………………..

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R050genius October 30, 2012 at 0956

Yup. She sux and needs to go. Screaming at her employees and threatening them with DC’s is her game right now and everyone hates her…even customers…

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HMF November 1, 2012 at 0016

The person you’re referring too, who isn’t as bad as her predecessor, actually was trained by her predecessor on how to manage and lead a store. She had to kiss his butt in order to appease him in order to continue forward with her progression towards SL. Well, the student became the teacher and schooled him. Heard she was the one that got him fired. No wonder GenX likes to post so much about her.

I love R050!

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KingOfSpades November 1, 2012 at 2114

Eh….. Not a flagship no more

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Jade October 29, 2012 at 1656

I’m glad he’s gone.

Not for me – but for my former colleagues (I departed a month ago) – because unlike me, who couldn’t cope with the heat after 4 years as a Genius, they’re still there taking a beating everyday from an ever-increasing workload and no increase in staff.

I whussed out for a comfortable desk job – but took a 35% pay cut for the privilege. I loved being a Genius more than anything, but not even money could persuade me to stay in that toxic environment anymore. My manager thought that spoke volumes.

I left because I knew things wouldn’t get better under Browett’s guidance – and I sincerely hope his predecessor goes some way to restore employees’ faith in Apple Retail, because at the moment, there isn’t much.

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Cory Moll October 29, 2012 at 1756

Since the announcement this afternoon, I have heard nothing but exclamations of joy of Browett’s departure both from fellow workers at my store and via email and twitter. Today is the result of a tremendous amount of pressure put forth by employees, customers and stockholders on Tim Cook and the board of directors to take action and we have all rewarded. Apple Retail has been heavily tarnished as a result of Browett’s measures, and his continued presence in the leadership chain would certainly have gave way to an increasingly diminished experience both for customers and for the retail workforce. It is my hope that the future head of Retail will be seen not only for their track record of success but more importantly how well they were received by their workers. I would further hope that Retail would be led by our own Steve Cano, who has been involved with the Apple Retail project since day one; his promotion would underscore the headline of our credo – “our most important resource, our soul, is our people.”

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GenX October 29, 2012 at 1925

For the first time, I 100% agree with you Cory.

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ex-Apple October 29, 2012 at 1944

Yes to Cano, should have been him in the first place. But Gen – agreeing with Cory??!!!
Now he’ll start claiming you support a union ;-)

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GenX October 29, 2012 at 1954

Unions can be of great service, but I will never feel that Apple Retail is the place for one.

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D October 29, 2012 at 2120

Cano would be amazing.

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GenX October 29, 2012 at 2121

Cano, Cano. He’s our man! If he can’t do it, maybe Jerry can???

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The Unknown Shareholder October 30, 2012 at 0650

Excuse me, but exactly what pressure from stockholders are you talking about?

As a long time holder of AAPL myself, I don’t recall any shareholder initiatives which pressured the CEO or Board of Directors to take any action to remove Browett from his position. Browett didn’t need any assistance in that area since he basically ended up hanging himself. Most of the pressure basically came about from him not getting what Apple Retail has been primarily about; that of providing an avenue where customers (both long time and potential) can experience Apple’s products.

Sites like this provided an avenue for some of the more egregious changes (emphasizing revenue at the expense of service) to be made publicly known to the point where it was inevitable that Tim Cook would eventually hear about them, where he would eventually have to re-evaluate his own decision in hiring this guy in the first place. So if anything, I would give the credit to Gary Allen for being one of the key enablers which allowed those who were most affected, a channel to express their grievances (which thus allowed the larger media to pickup on it).

If anything, my personal confidence in Cook as CEO has taken a major hit since where was the overall due diligence in vetting Browett to begin with on his part? One of the common reactions from many U.K. individuals on various forums and blogs when Browett was initially announced was one of negativity with the majority of them citing how poor customer service was under his stewardship at Dixon’s. Also backing up a bit, why wasn’t there a retail successor groomed during Johnson’s tenure? I know corporate initiatives have been put in place since Jobs passed away to address this as far as identifying potential leaders and grooming those who are on the bench. My point is that with Cook being primarily an operations guy, selecting executives that fit the Apple culture will be a constant challenge.

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Throwthatham October 29, 2012 at 1852

Thank you God! It can only get better from here. I’ve been dancing all afternoon as have many of my coworkers. Wondering if the fact that there are STILL no cases for the iPhone 5 was a factor. Millions of dollars walked put the door to buy them anywhere else.

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SecretAboutBox October 29, 2012 at 1936

Very glad to see Browett go. I believe that many leaders will quietly be sharing this emotion, even if they can’t share it with their team. Popular opinion can never be understanding of all the things that went into the decision to bring him on in the first place, but the overwhelming popular opinion of his wrongness for the company from the get-go was a pretty solid indicator that he was the wrong guy no matter how well he interviewed.

Let us all hope that whoever comes in has a clear understanding that customer service is what makes Apple Store unique, and that Jony Ive got it right:

“We are really pleased with our revenues but our goal isn’t to make money. It sounds a little flippant, but it’s the truth. Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products. If we are successful people will like them and if we are operationally competent, we will make money,” he said.

He explained how, in the 90s, Apple was very close to bankruptcy and that “you learn a lot about vital corporations through non-vital corporations”. When Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997, his focus was not on making money — “His observation was that the products weren’t good enough. His resolve was to make better products.” This was a different approach from other attempts to turn the company around, which had focused first and foremost on cost savings and revenue generation.”

While there is always a concern about efficiency, it is not the overriding consideration. Always first is the customer and his loyalty. That only comes from great customer service. Making money is the byproduct of great customer service. If you want to make more money, you don’t try to squeeze it out from the employee who is already putting his heart and soul on the line for the company, you get more like him and serve more customers. Everybody was happy with the financial success Apple Retail had, until it was suggested that somehow they really should be making more. Fact of the matter is, that as successful as Apple is, there are MILLIONS and MILLIONS of new customers who have never had an Apple product. They are who Apple should be looking to, to service, amaze, and delight. Apple would be making A LOT more money if they managed to increase the actual customer base by 50% rather than trying to increase the profitability from the current customer by 10%.

It’s well known that a repeat customer is more valuable than a new one because the cost of the customer acquisition is lower. However, when the customer starts to feel like chum in the water rather than an honored guest in the corporate home, the door is only an overcrowded 20 steps away.

The very first thing any new Retail Chief should undertake is the immediate and rapid expansion of the overcrowded stores which actually drive people away. and find a new design language which allows the stores to remain a place of civil conversation rather than a shouting match over the din of the rabble.

Ron Johnson is having a fairly tough go over at JCP, last I read. Maybe he’ll come back? Wouldn’t be the first time an employee has come back to Apple to greater successes.

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Mr. Bartlett October 29, 2012 at 2008

Hear hear. The expansion in China has been good to see, but way too slow. And domestically there are still far too few Apple stores in existing markets, and markets left unserved.

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Actual employee October 31, 2012 at 1458

I’m glad to see Forstall out as well. As an FRS I got real tired real fast of folks coming in demanding a new phone for shit that was and still is in many cases iOS 6 bugs. This was stuff that was working great before under iOS 5 and if Forstall has spent less time in pointless crap like the ‘clever’ moving shadows on the volume slider and more on QC they wouldn’t have happened. Where is the apology for that. Or the apology for the 3 hours I spent on the phone with AT&T cause his screwy software told me I was on wifi and has zero cell usage while it was racking up over $500 in overages in 2 days.

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R050genius October 31, 2012 at 2205

Sure. Blame Scott Forstall for your lack of ability to fix iOS issues. What have you done that’s so impressive, you non-contributing zero?

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Actual employee October 31, 2012 at 2217

I’m not one of the software engineers you dipshit so how the hell am I supposed to fix an issue with the operating system and how it was written.

As for what have I contributed, probably a hell of a lot more than you have. I’m the one that fixes when you are too dumb to figure out that you can’t hear when you make calls cause you left the shipping plastic on, I’m the one that replaces your iPhone when you dropped it and shattered it. And most of all, I’m the one that deals with your technologically moronic mother when she comes in to learn yet again how to make a freaking phone call because you just had to insist that she get an iPhone even though she’s too uneducated to figure it out and then you flew back to wherever and refuse to answer her questions.

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R050genius October 31, 2012 at 2224

Are you also the same one who gets so mad at a comment aimed at you, that your reply is filled with grammatical errors? Are you the one who feels so entitled in your role at a small, C volume Apple Store in a location that nobody cares about, that you rifle through customer data when your trying to fix their computer on your repair shifts? The one who feels so superior that you openly s**t talk your job and your customers, yet still show up every day and take the paycheck and benefits? Way to go. Way to “contribute”.

KayM October 29, 2012 at 1943

yes Cory your right :) i hope now that tin change some things and Cano will be a great choose.

greetings from germany

Munich Rosenstraße

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Apocynum October 29, 2012 at 2054

I’m so glad Browett is out. I really think Cano deserves the job, too.

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BC21 October 29, 2012 at 2116

Verry happy Browett is gone. I truly don’t understand why Cano isn’t in charge yet. Obviously Apple must have reasons but it seems like a very logical move, especially after this disaster. Like someone else said, I’m glad it only took Cook 6 months to realize, what we all know/knew (from working in Apple Retail; the culture and environment) he wouldn’t be a good fit. Good bye sir.

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Throwthatham October 30, 2012 at 1917

Threats of Documented Coaching are everywhere. Apparently there area large number of “leaders” who think this is a good way to encourage desired results. I know several coworkers who are being tortured with the same thing.

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Actual employee October 31, 2012 at 2218

For most stores that was a problem that predates Browett and will continue long after him.

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ex-Apple October 31, 2012 at 2237

DC’s are intended to be motivational tools to improve performance, not to push someone out. If your managers are using them incorrectly, I suggest you ask for and complete a PIP. Ask your manager to meet with you weekly to help you improve, and request a weekly email follow up. If the DC is bogus, your manager will back off. That’s a lot of work for them -and you- intended to remedy performance and move you forward. Using the PIP and weekly meetings allows you to hold THEM accountable and gives you material to show HR in the case of an inappropriate termination. All you have to do is meet the standards in the DC and PIP, which cannot be higher than the standard performance of the rest of your team.

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HMF November 1, 2012 at 0041

Whoa. Which store did you work at? Sounds like The Apple Store, Fantasyland!

DCs are sometimes rarely genuinely used to help people improve but for the most part on behalf of management, is THE way to get people out. DC is used to help Apple cover their butts when it comes to future lawsuits. I had one former ML tell me, “Yeah, we use Documented Coaching to get rid of people we don’t like. It’s all Bullshit.”

Doing what you said via PIP, DC etc is really an insurmountable mountain. And to say that DC and PIP, “cannot be higher than the standard performance of the rest of your team” shows you do not really understand what DC and PIP is really about. Management expects you to “Significantly EXCEED” their expectations in order to even remotely come close to passing a DC. And on top of that, the criteria those administering the DC are using is subjective. There really isn’t any measurable beyond your manager saying he is happy with your progress.

Did you know you don’t have to sign that DC? If you think you’re being discriminated against or really unfairly treated, don’t sign the DC. You will probably get fired but honestly, if you’re already at the point of DC, you need to check your six, because your managers have pretty much made up their mind. There are lots of employment attorneys out there you can also ask for advice for free before, during and after your DC! Know your rights. Some of them are posted in the break room(probably in a corner behind the fridge). Attorneys love Apple cases!

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ex-Apple November 1, 2012 at 0826

HMF, I was a manager at Apple and I DC’d 4 people in my tenure. One of them I termed. Three used the DC to improve and one of them even worked well enough to earn a promotion to the family room. I’m sorry your experience has been so negative. For me, the DC was a way to get someone’s attention when they just weren’t making an effort and usually were too young to understand the consequences. Contrary to your opinion, not all managers enjoy firing people; the good ones (and there are some) get satisfaction from helping their team grow. I was not the only Apple manager who felt this way, although I do know there were managers who were punitive as you said. Just don’t paint everyone with the same brush. Just because I had some people on my team who were lacking doesn’t mean they all were.

Gary October 31, 2012 at 2238

…please dial it down a little. Personal attacks aren’t useful here.

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GenX October 31, 2012 at 2240

Whoa! Easy fellas! Don’t feed the trolls!!!

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