Jony Ive, along with Steve Jobs, has long been regarded as part of the soul of Apple. His contributions in terms of industrial design and software UI have had a gigantic impact on Apple's products and the company's bottom line. It's not hyperbole to say that Apple would not be what it is today without him.
But the recent announcement about Ive being promoted to "Chief Design Officer" makes it clear to me that he is beginning to wind down his career at Apple. Before I share my thoughts, here's a copy of the memo from Tim Cook that announced the promotion of Ive and two other Apple executives:
I have exciting news to share with you today. I am happy to announce that Jony Ive is being promoted to the newly created position of Chief Design Officer at Apple.
Jony is one of the most talented and accomplished designers of his generation, with an astonishing 5000 design and utility patents to his name. His new role is a reflection of the scope of work he has been doing at Apple for some time. Jony’s design responsibilities have expanded from hardware and, more recently, software UI to the look and feel of Apple retail stores, our new campus in Cupertino, product packaging and many other parts of our company.
Design is one of the most important ways we communicate with our customers, and our reputation for world-class design differentiates Apple from every other company in the world. As Chief Design Officer, Jony will remain responsible for all of our design, focusing entirely on current design projects, new ideas and future initiatives. On July 1, he will hand off his day-to-day managerial responsibilities of ID and UI to Richard Howarth, our new vice president of Industrial Design, and Alan Dye, our new vice president of User Interface Design.
Richard, Alan and Jony have been working together as colleagues and friends for many years. Richard has been a member of the Design team for two decades, and in that time he has been a key contributor to the design of each generation of iPhone, Mac, and practically every other Apple product. Alan started at Apple nine years ago on the Marcom team, and helped Jony build the UI team which collaborated with ID, Software Engineering and countless other groups on groundbreaking projects like iOS 7, iOS 8 and Apple Watch.
Please join me in congratulating these three exceptionally talented designers on their new roles at Apple.
The announcement strikes me as a well-oiled public relations machine laying the groundwork for Ive to retire altogether from Apple. But these things must be handled very carefully and professionally, and that is exactly what Apple is doing.
Apple learned its lesson from the Steve Jobs succession drama
Remember back when Steve Jobs was ill? Tim Cook took over as acting CEO of Apple while Jobs dealt with his medical problems, but it was pretty clear to anyone paying attention that Cook actually started running Apple for real long before Jobs eventually passed away.
But during Jobs' illness there were many questions raised publicly about Apple's succession plan. Some folks expressed skepticism that Apple actually even had a plan for the company after Jobs. As it turns out the company did have a plan, and it has worked out very well so far, with Tim Cook doing an exemplary job as CEO.
As far as Jony Ive goes, Apple is clearly getting ahead of the curve by laying the groundwork now for Ive's eventual retirement. Thus it was critical to put his replacements in place long before any announcement of his retirement. This was almost certainly done to avoid the predictable controversy in the media and to prevent alarm on the part of Apple investors.
And the creation of the job "Chief Design Officer" is Tim Cook's way of telling Apple customers and investors that Jony Ive will still be involved with the company while his successors settle into their new roles. Frankly, I think this was a brilliant ploy by Tim Cook because it conveys a sense of continuity to the public and Wall Street, but also sends the message that things will be changing at Apple. Tim Cook may not have the charisma of Steve Jobs, but he is one shrewd dude in his own right, and it shows with this slick move.
Can you imagine what would have happened to the price of Apple's stock if there had been a sudden announcement about Jony Ive leaving the company? It would probably have shaved billions and billions of dollars off Apple's market value. As it is the stock is down about 2.47% as I write this post on Tuesday afternoon.
So I think it's pretty clear that Apple learned its lesson from all of the drama that surrounded the succession questions related to Steve Jobs. And it has acted preemptively to avoid as much of that as possible when Ive finally leaves the company for good.
Will Apple survive without Jony Ive? Absolutely!
Some folks will question how well Apple will fare without Ive around to lead its industrial design and software UI efforts. But I think any worry about Ive retiring is misplaced and unnecessary. The passing of Steve Jobs should have demonstrated that no one is irreplaceable at any company.
Yes, Jony Ive has had an amazing track record of success. But even he isn't the be-all, end-all of Apple. The company is larger and stronger than any single person that it employs, regardless of who that is or what role they've played in the past.
And don't forget that the two replacements for Ive have also been part of Apple's current success. The company's design DNA is probably as ingrained on Richard Howarth and Alan Dye as it is on Jony Ive. So I think they will follow in the footsteps of Ive and Jobs, but in their own unique ways.
We'll undoubtedly be seeing a lot more of Howarth and Dye in future Apple product announcements and marketing materials as the company seeks to build their credibility as the successors of Ive. They will become much more visible to the public, and Ive will quietly and happily move into the background as time passes.
Apple University: Institutionalizing the values of Jony Ive
Finally, whenever we talk about one person or another leaving Apple, it's necessary to mention Apple University. What is Apple University? Well, it's something that Steve Jobs established to teach employees about the history of Apple and to help perpetuate the company's commitment to simplicity and excellence in designing products for its customers.
The NY Times has a profile of Apple University that is worth reading:
The program was devised by Joel Podolny, then the dean of Yale School of Management. Mr. Jobs selected him when the program was founded, in 2008, and he remains head of the effort.
On an internal website available only to Apple staff members, employees sign up for courses tailored to their positions and backgrounds. For example, one class taught founders of recently acquired companies how to smoothly blend resources and talents into Apple.
Some of the courses teach case studies about important business decisions that Apple made, one of the employees said, including the one to make the iPod and its iTunes software compatible with Microsoft’s Windows system. This was a topic of fierce debate among executives. Mr. Jobs hated the idea of sharing the iPod with Windows, but he eventually acquiesced to his lieutenants. It turned out that opening the iPod to Windows users led to explosive growth of the music player and the iTunes Store, an ecosystem that would later contribute to the success of the iPhone.
The classes are taught on Apple’s campus in a section of buildings called City Center and are as thoughtfully planned as an Apple product, the employees said. The rooms are well lit and built in a trapezoid shape; seats in the back rows are elevated so that everyone has a clear view of the instructor. Occasionally, classes are given in Apple’s overseas offices, like one in China, and the professors travel there to teach.
“The Best Things,” another course, takes its name from a quotation by Mr. Jobs. Its purpose is to remind employees to surround themselves with the best things, like talented peers and high-quality materials, so that they can do their best work.
Apple University is really the company's way of embedding its values and vision into all new generations of employees who might never have worked at the company when Steve Jobs was there. It's a way of institutionalizing the experience and vision of Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, and it's an important reason why the company will not only survive but continue to thrive even after Jony Ive is long gone.
My guess is that Jony Ive will remain with Apple long enough to let his successors settle into their new positions, and to let the public and Apple investors get comfortable with them being there. But it's crystal clear to anyone familiar with corporate personnel maneuvers and public relations that Apple is preparing for the coming day when Jony Ive sails off into the sunset to enjoy his golden years.
Did you miss a post? Check the Eye On Apple home page to get caught up with the latest news, discussions and rumors about Apple.
This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?