Normally when an individual ascends to a C-level position in a company it marks the beginning of a bright new era of leadership for the company. But Apple is certainly no ordinary company and as such, the tea leaves read a bit differently for their executive shake-ups. News yesterday of Jony Ive’s promotion to the newly minted Chief Design Officer position at Apple has birthed a gaggle of “this is the beginning of the end” takes across the web. My personal favorite, Ben Thompson’s Jony Ive “Promoted”, The Implications of Not Managing, What About Apple? is perhaps the most insightfully bearish look into how this move turns the page into Ive’s final chapter at Apple.
Me, I’m not quite so pessimistic, though I admit there’s a bit of “say it ain’t so” in my optimism. I disagree with Thompson’s assertion that Ive stepping away from management duties marks a shift in his approach to product development:
In my estimation, whether Ive intends it or not — and I think he likely does, for what it’s worth — this is the beginning of the end of his time at Apple. To give up “management” in exchange for “thinking freely” is, when it comes to business, akin to shifting from product-focused R&D to exploratory R&D.
Thompson goes on to cite a Steve Jobs quote that supports this philosophy. But Ive stepping away could easily be construed as a means to becoming more product focused and less day-to-day minutiae. As many recent profiles have highlighted, Ive’s design responsibilities spill over into all aspects of Apple the company and are not just confined to the products they make. His responsibilities are numerous and significant and the one thing that can’t necessarily be replicated through training and mentoring are his ideas. Besides, isn’t “thinking freely” basically how Jony Ive characterized his working relationship with Jobs?
If becoming Chief Design Officer means Jony Ive is beginning a slow walk out of the doors of Cupertino, then it’s certainly a great loss for the company and its ardent followers. If it just means he’s being rewarded and recognized for his great product vision with more time to spend with his family where he wants to spend it, well then I say bring it on. I’m sure the design studio in Cupertino is top notch, but I for one can’t wait to see what comes from a man of Ive’s great genius inspired by the home he longs for and the people he loves. You go do you, Jony.