Seeing Apple in Microsoft’s Reorganization

Adam Lashinsky:

One of the key learnings of my research on Apple over the past five years has been the extraordinary degree to which Apple is organized by function. No other company its size has the audacity to organize this way as opposed to the typical corporation’s divisional structure. The two most obvious examples of this are General Electric and, yes, Microsoft. GE’s aircraft and medical divisions are like companies unto themselves. Ditto Microsoft’s Xbox-purveying entertainment division.

Steve Jobs hated divisionalization. He hated fiefdoms. He wanted one Apple, one strategy, one brand, one message. Software developers would contribute software across products. Finance would keep the books across product groups. And so on.

The comparison to Apple’s organizational structure is obvious, but Lashinsky is correct that this is going to require a significant cultural change for Microsoft.

This bit confuses me, though:

As a small cultural example, consider the pickle Apple is in over e-books. In refusing to settle its price-fixing case with the Justice Department, Apple under Tim Cook adhered to its Jobsian principles. It believed it was right and that its partners, the government, its competitors and critics were fools. It apologized to no one because, well, Apple doesn’t apologize because Apple is never wrong. All this worked marvelously for the great Steve Jobs. For Apple under Tim Cook, it’s an understandably different proposition.

Lashinsky is trying to argue that Apple’s unique product-focused organizational structure depended upon Jobs, individually, to keep it all working. That may prove true, eventually, but I don’t see how the e-books price-fixing case is any way indicative of that. For one thing, the negotiations between Apple and the publishers all took place while Jobs was still at the helm. And I don’t see how anything would have played out any differently with the DOJ case if Jobs were still alive and well today. In what way is Apple worse off regarding this case today than it would be if Jobs were still around?

Further, Apple may well be institutionally arrogant, but they’ve never held themselves as “never wrong”. Jobs took this on directly while handling the iPhone 4 “antennagate” situation: “We’re not perfect.”

Sunday, 14 July 2013