It?s ironic that despite the fact that anything up to 4,000 employees at Apple could be looking for new jobs in a matter of weeks, most attention at the moment is focused on whether one individual will still be in her job for much longer.
Ellen Hancock, former chief technology officer of the troubled company and now in charge of a kind of ?special projects? portfolio of technological odds and ends, is widely expected to quit the company in the coming weeks.
If she does, she will be just the latest in an increasingly long line of Apple executives who have made for the exit since the return to the company of its ousted founder Steve Jobs, now suspected by Silicon Valley conspiracy theorists of being poised to stage a backdoor takeover.
Satjiv Chahil, vice president of worldwide marketing, John Floisand, senior vp for worldwide sales and Fred Forsyth, senior vp of Powermac operations were first to go. Then went Heizi Roisen, the woman charged with improving Apple?s damaged relationship with the developer community, a major loss at a time when making up lost ground with developers had been identified as critical.
But worse was to come: chief operating officer Marco Landi took against the idea of being demoted to senior vp for worldwide sales and announced that he too was leaving. With his departure, none of Apple?s current senior management has more than a year?s experience of the company. Unless you count Steve Jobs, of course?.
The official Apple line on the comings and goings of recent weeks is that it has all been part and parcel of the company?s ongoing bid to restore its fortunes with a radical overhaul that has the $400 million takeover of Next Software at its centrepiece.
Hancock is not going, insist the company spokespeople, despite persistent speculation inside and outside the company that the only thing keeping her there are last minute quibbles over the terms of a severance package.
It would not be out of character for Hancock to quit. After 25 years at IBM, she left the company when her responsibilities were downgraded, exactly the same thing that has happened to her at Apple since Christmas. After being hailed as one of the architects of the Next deal, she found herself abruptly stripped of her chief technology officer and left with such onerous duties as overseeing the Apple Fellows scheme.
The abrupt decline in her fortunes corresponds to a shift in the balance of power within Apple. It may well be Apple that is buying Next, but it is increasingly obvious that it will be the Next management team that will be running the merged company.
When the takeover deal was announced just before Christmas last year, great emphasis was placed on the fact that Steve Jobs would not be returning to the company full time but would have a nebulous, floating role as advisor to Amelio.
Less than three months later, Jobs has an office at Apple headquarters and two of his right hand men from Next - Avie Tevanian and Jon Rubinstein - have ousted Hancock and taken over development of the Rhapsody operating system, possibly the single most important development Apple has ever undertaken.
According to industry sources, Hancock is paying the price for clashing with Jobs, who was reportedly dismissive of her technical skills. The final straw in what was always going to be a tempestuous relationship allegedly came when Hancock wanted to revive plans to license Solaris from Sun Microsystems, despite the Next takeover. Jobs was said to be furious and days later his men were in place.
The balance of power on the executive committee now looks interesting. Four Apple executives, three from Next, Amelio, Jobs and fellow co-founder Steve Wozniak. The inference from the events of recent weeks has to be that Jobs is now effectively pulling all the strings, so is he likely to go all the way and stage a takeover?
For the moment, the normally loquacious Jobs is maintains an unnerving silence on the subject of Apple. He steps out and performs for the faithful at MacWorld, but is absent when Amelio faces the less than adoring shareholders. He?s happy to talk about Pixar, his other interest, but interviews on the subject of Apple are pretty much out of the question.
It is left to others to make the comments. Amelio, the man who?s nominally in charge, is left to fend off questions from analysts and the media about why he?s allowing Jobs to recreate Next inside Apple. That?s not fair, he protests, some of the old management were prima donnas who weren?t doing their jobs properly. Their Next replacements are just the best people to take over.
And while Jobs remains silent, he has Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison handling his personal PR by offering up comments to the effect that as soon as Jobs judges it to be the right time, the money will be on hand within a week to fund a Jobs/Ellison buyout of the company.
Ellison reckons that there is currently a 30 per cent possibility of a Jobs coup. For the moment, it probably suits Jobs to sit where he is. His people are driving the company?s flagship development; the ?old guard? have been ousted; and Amelio is there to take the flak for any unpopular decisions that have to be made.
But it is difficult to ignore the conclusion that if Amelio demurs from Jobs way of thinking, the situation will change and Apple?s puppet government will be sacrificed very quickly.
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