On 09-Jul-97, Apple Computer announced Gilbert Amelio had resigned as CEO and chairman of Apple Computer. Amelio replaced Michael Spindler as Apple CEO in February of 1996, making his tenure at Apple slightly more than 17 months. Executive Vice President of Technology Ellen Hancock also announced her resignation, after following Amelio to Apple from National Semiconductor about a year ago.
Unlike previous leadership transitions, Apple has not announced a new CEO; instead, a search committee has been formed to look for candidates from outside Apple. In the meantime, Apple Chief Financial Officer Fred Anderson will take on additional responsibilities for the Apple’s daily operations, and – in a move that’s generated spirited debate in the Macintosh community – Apple co-founder and former NeXT CEO Steve Jobs will take on a wider role as a key advisor, including serving on the CEO search committee.
Analysis and speculation regarding Amelio’s resignation has been rampant in both Macintosh and mainstream media – a good deal of which has been inaccurate and even surreal. Amelio is generally credited with revising Apple’s byzantine organization and practices, streamlining operations, improving product quality, and clarifying Apple’s product line. However, Amelio’s strengths are as a technologist and manager rather than as a salesperson: his resignation was not entirely unanticipated given that Apple is attempting to become a more market-focused organization. To that end, it seems that Apple requires an articulate market- and consumer-focused CEO who can improve Apple’s sales and (perhaps more importantly) its public perception. Rather than rehash examinations and analyses of Amelio’s departure, it seems more appropriate to let Amelio speak for himself, via a surprisingly good interview in the San Jose Mercury News.
Ellen Hancock’s departure follows her central role as Chief Technology Officer in Apple’s decisions to mothball the Copland operating system effort and acquire NeXT. Following the purchase of NeXT, however, many of Hancock’s responsibilities were transferred to NeXT executives. Hancock has stated repeatedly that Apple must focus on its own market and customers rather than try to convert to a NeXT-like enterprise focus; in a MacWEEK interview, Hancock said that she’s open to the possibility of serving as Apple CEO.
Apple faces many challenges in its core business and in a seemingly constant public relations battle; switching CEOs will undoubtedly throw more fuel on the fire of Apple criticism in many circles. However, Apple clearly must begin to communicate its advantages and distinctiveness better, and that will require strong, decisive, and public leadership from the top of the company.