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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