Ex-Apple exec does U-turn in opinion of CEO Tim Cook

Ashleigh Allsopp
10 November, 2012
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Reacting to public criticism about an interview in which he blasted CEO Tim Cook, a former Apple sales executive has now said that Cook is one three people directly responsible for saving Apple

David Sobotta worked at Apple from 1984 to 2004, and, though he didn’t work under Tim Cook’s leadership or report directly to him, claims to have had a lot of contact with the new CEO, who took over from the company’s late co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.

Sobatta, who recently published ‘The Pomme Company,’ a memoir of his time at Apple, gave an interview to ReadWrite last week in which he said, among other things, that Cook was a “poor judge of character: and once humiliated his team as a sales conference by “putting up a slide with a picture of a toilet plunger as a commentary on the group’s performance”.

The interview sparked a social media backlash against Sobotta and ReadWrite writer Dan Lyons, who is known for an anti-Apple stance. This prompted the San Francisco Chronicle to approach Sobotta for comment, where they found he’s not a Cook-hater.

In fact, he told the SFC that he actually thinks Cook is “brilliant,” and credits Cook, Steve Jobs, and Fred Anderson with saving Apple. (Sobotta was there when the company was at its low point, and when it was ascendant, the site points out.)

However, he also says he has his reservations.

In the earlier ReadWrite interview, when asked what he thought about the recent executive shake-up at Apple, which involved SVP of iOS Scott Forstall and recently appointed retail head John Browett announcing their departure from the company, Sobotta replied: “Well, for starters, Cook is not a people person. He certainly will not stand behind someone if the going gets rough.”

“I sense no personal loyalty in him, and I suspect employees already understand that,” Sobotta continued. “Tim will react to the numbers or his fear of being wrong quickly. Fear of being wrong is a managerial trait that runs strong and deep in Apple because of the way Steve ran the company. ”

“You don’t make mistakes at Apple and get a second chance. That often hinders decision-making and creates a lot of passive-aggressiveness between teams that should be cooperating.”

It is widely thought that Forstall was fired for not taking responsibility for Mapsgate.

Sobotta also said that he thinks that Cook is a “poor judge of character”, claiming that Browett’s short stint at Apple fits the ‘Cook pattern’. “The people I saw him hire were not good ones. I don’t’ think he relates well to people.

“I would expect that Tim is having a hard time herding the chickens,” Sobatta added. “From what I saw of him, he was something of a loner… His preference is to tinker with spreadsheets and numbers. He’s not a natural leader. He’s a manager.

“From what I saw, Tim is the kind of guy who would just fire some folks rather than try to sort out what is working and what isn’t working.”

Sobatto thinks that “screwing around” with the ‘Save As’ command on OS X was one of the worst under-interface decisions ever made, and that the removal of optical drives from many new Macs is almost as bad. “Certainly, the maps decision [in iOS 6] will haunt Apple forever.

“It’s going to get worse at Apple. It is not a sustainable business culture.

“Apple doesn’t develop its own talent. The new folks come in, spend a year figuring out which end is up, and end being very frustrated,” Sobotta continued. “[The experience is] very demoralising to the people who now report to them and already knew what their bosses just spent a year learning. It’s a horrendous way to run a company.

“Apple is a ‘next great thing’ company, and that in and of itself is unsustainable. They haven’t found the next great thing after the iPad and iPhone, and their shares in both those areas are slipping,” Sobotta concluded.

What do you think about Sobotta’s comments about Apple and its CEO? It’s worth highlighting that this is just one man’s perspective and opinion from his sales executive position at the company eight years ago, so doesn’t necessarily reflect the thoughts of the rest of Apple’s employees.

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