In what was the biggest Apple boardroom announcement since the announcement that Steve Jobs would be stepping down from his position as CEO due to ill health, both Scott Forstall and John Browett are to leave the company.
While Forstall (former SVP of iOS Software and responsible for Siri and Apple’s Maps) will remain at the company until 2013, Browett finds himself leaving his position as SVP of Retail immediately.
When Apple announced the appointment of Browett in January, it came as a huge surprise. The executive had extensive retail experience in the UK, serving as the chief executive of electrical retail chain Dixons between 2007 and 2012, also holding a series of executive positions at UK supermarket chain Tesco PLC – where he served as CEO of Tesco.com, the company’s online shopping website.
Browett was tasked with replacing the man behind Apple’s famous stores, Ron Johnson – now CEO of J.C. Penney.
Commenting on his hire, Cook commended Browett’s dedication to customer service, stating that the Englishman shared “that commitment like no one else we’ve met,” adding that Apple was “thrilled to have him join our team and bring his incredible retail experience to Apple.”
However, just a day after its announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook has forced to defend Browett’s appointment in an email, stating what he believed his new hire would bring to the company.
Macrumors reader Tony Hart sent an email to Tim Cook asking for his thoughts on the company’s appointment of John Browett, receiving a reply that stated the Dixons executive would bring “Apple to an even higher level of customer service and satisfaction”:
I talked to many people and John was the best by far. I think you will be as pleased as I am. His role isn’t to bring Dixons to Apple, [it's] to bring Apple to an even higher level of customer service and satisfaction.
Apple’s announcement had left many scratching their heads, especially those from the UK, with questions being raised as to why the world’s biggest technology company would appoint the chief executive of a company that had a poor reputation for customer service and had experienced a decrease in sales over the course of 2011.
Despite that, three months later, Apple formally declared to its investors that the former Dixons Retail CEO had begun employment at the company (serving out his time as Dixons CEO).
Filing a Form 3 and Form 4 with the SEC, Apple awarded Browett with 100,000 shares upon his appointment – equating to around $60 million (although they couldn’t be vested until he reached certain milestones in his role). Considering Browett has left Apple in just over nine months at the company, it is doubtful that he reached many milestones whilst in charge.
Not much is known about how Browett operated within Apple. The company continued to open new stores around the world, expanding its retail presence to assist Apple customers with their purchases and give consumers a chance to play with its new mobile and computing products.
Less than two weeks ago, Browett visited China to open Apple’s third store in Beijing, on the famous Wangfujing shopping street. The store took the title as the largest store in Asia and Browett shared stories of his time in China as a student, visiting the corner where the new store is located.
“Who could have believed what happened in China in 25 years, let alone what’s happened with Apple,” he said, sharing that, in his opinion, the new location is the best store Apple had built in Asia so far.
When Browett left Dixons, it was argued that he had jumped from a sinking ship. People were right.
Earlier this month, we reported that Dixons — a name synonymous with electronics in the UK for many decades — would cease its online operations, shuttering Dixons.co.uk after closing its physical stores in 2006. Today the group is split into four divisions as an umbrella for names like Pixmania, Currys and PC World and Know How in the UK as well as European brands like Electro World and Gigantti.
In May 2012, Dixons announced it had agreed to a £300 million refinancing package with its lenders, helping it solidify its financial position and to continue shifting its retail strategy to rebuild its reputation on UK high streets.
The company continues to be accused of poor customers service, the opposite of what Apple CEO Tim Cook had praised Browett for when commenting on his hire.
Trouble At Apple
Fast forward to August. Browett has been in charge more than four months and reports of hiring changes at the company began leaking out.
It emerged that the company had started laying off hires made in the previous six months in the UK, Canada and the US, with the 25% pay raises issued in June credited as the source of Apple’s tweaking of hiring policies. Part-time employees saw a reduction in hours and hiring events were said to have been stopped.
But, it all turned out to be a mistake — perhaps the most costly for Browett.
Two days after Apple’s hiring policy changes had emerged, the company released a statement sharing that employee hours being cut and hiring events being halted were misleading. Staffing changes were made, but they were made in error and were reversed by Apple as quickly as they were rolled out.
Apple reiterated in its report that stores were still hiring and that its employees are its ‘most important asset’. Browett apparently told store leadership teams that they had been trying a new ‘staffing formula’ which caused hourly shift cuts and retail stores to be understaffed for several weeks before reverting it:
He instructed leadership teams to tell employees, “We messed up,” according to two people who were aware of the communication, which also stressed that while shift schedules were affected, no one was laid off. He also wanted employees to know that it was hiring new staff, these people said.
Apple’s Kristin Huguet said that ”Making these changes was a mistake and the changes are being reversed, adding, “our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve.”
In today’s announcement, Apple wrote:
Additionally, John Browett is leaving Apple. A search for a new head of Retail is underway and in the interim, the Retail team will report directly to Tim Cook. 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.
Put simply, Apple’s retail juggernaut will operate in cruise control, until Browett’s replacement is found and hired. Given Browett’s short time in charge at the company, he may only ever been associated with the opening of Apple’s new retail stores and being associated with a pretty spectacular recruitment cock-up.
Did Browett jump before he was pushed? The speed of his departure suggests that is the case (especially with Forstall staying in an advisory position until 2013), but we may never know.