Former Apple exec says current structure isn't "particularly effective"

What you need to know

  • Apple has fewer executives than Microsoft.
  • It has more people reporting into those executives, too.
  • One unnamed former exec says the structure isn't effective.

Apple's leadership team has changed considerably in recent years and a new report by The Information takes a deeper look at what that means for the company.

With Apple continuing to grow, the report investigates the impact that is having on the current executive team and its structure. One former executive weighed in to say that the current setup "doesn't look particularly effective," too.

Two particular examples are held up. Head of retail Angela Ahrendts left recently, with her duties being picked up by current executive Diedre O'Brien. Design chief Jony Ive is also on his way out of the company, with Jeff Williams picking up the slack. That leaves both with considerably larger teams and mini-businesses to deal with.

What becomes clear is how the number of people reporting directly to Apple's 20 or so top managers—those who report to Cook—has exploded over the years as Apple's workforce has grown sharply. For instance, after retail chief Angela Ahrendts left in April, human resources head Dierdre O'Brien, a longtime Apple executive close Cook, added retail to her responsibilities. By absorbing all of former Ahrendts' direct reports, O'Brien now has 23 direct reports—more than any other executive at the upper level of the company. Similarly, COO Jeff Williams is absorbing the design team previously run by Jony Ive, adding two more direct reports to his existing eight.

When you compare that structure with Microsoft, the differences are stark.

Apple's senior management layer is smaller than that of other big tech companies, at least based on what it discloses to the U.S. government. Apple had only 115 executives in the U.S. who reported either to Cook or to one of Cook's direct subordinates, out of a U.S. workforce of almost 84,000, as of December 2017, it disclosed in a federally mandated employment survey. By comparison, Microsoft had 546 executives in the same classification overseeing 74,000 employees during the same period. While these companies might have a few senior executives stationed overseas, the vast majority are likely to be based in the U.S. (Our org chart shows a higher number than the 115 because it includes executives who are based overseas and is also more current.)

Apple plans on growing yet further, with one unnamed executive saying that the current structure may start to prove an issue.

But right now, "it looks like the senior vice presidents have way too many reports … it doesn't look particularly effective," the former Apple executive said, referring to the title held by most of Cook's direct reports.

There's a lot more detail in the report that is well worth checking out, too.

Further changes are expected in the coming years. CEO Tim Cook is already said to be getting his eventual replacement lined up, with COO Jeff Williams the name in the frame.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.