Google tempted by ex-Apple execs, hires who’ve proved disappointing for companies from Palm to J.C. Penney

“Apple Inc. is known for producing great products, like the iPod,” Ian King and Peter Burrows report for Bloomberg. “Now Google Inc. with its acquisition of Nest Labs Inc. and its Apple alumni founder Tony Fadell, is hoping it produces great leaders who can replicate that success as well.”

“It’s a gamble that has proved disappointing for companies from Palm Inc. to J.C. Penney Co.,” King and Burrows report. “Fadell will have to break the run of ex-Apple executives who have yet to replicate the iPhone maker’s success at their new employers. Managers at Apple — distinguished by its secretive culture and narrow focus on a few products — don’t necessarily flourish at companies with more traditional and cooperative structures.”

“Some high-profile defectors have already struck out. Two years after leaving Apple, Jon Rubinstein took over product development at handheld computer maker Palm and became CEO there in 2009. The failure of Palm’s Pre smartphone led to its sale in 2011 to Hewlett-Packard Co. Within a year, its new owner ended production of Palm software-based phones and Rubinstein left the company,” King and Burrows report. “Former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson was ousted as CEO of J.C. Penney in April after presiding over a 25 percent decline in annual revenue at the department store. His firing came less than two years after he left Apple, which he had helped make the world’s leading retailer in sales per square foot.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: In general, if Apple really valued these employees, they’d still be with Apple.

Related articles:
Tony Fadell and Nest team to become Google’s core hardware group – January 30, 2014
Dead to me: Apple’s Schiller ‘unfollows’ Tony Fadell and Nest after Google acquisition – January 18, 2014
Why Apple didn’t buy Tony Fadell’s Nest Labs – January 14, 2014
Feuds, funding and a fed up Fadell: Why Apple didn’t buy Nest – January 14, 2014
Did Tim Cook blow it by not snapping up Nest before Google? – January 13, 2014
Google to buy Nest Labs for $3.2 Billion – January 13, 2014
Tony Fadell introduces Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector – October 8, 2013
Tony Fadell, Father of the iPod: From Apple to Nest Labs, always a designer – July 24, 2013
Apple Store to sell Tony Fadell’s Nest Learning Thermostat, report claims – May 25, 2012
‘Father of the iPod’ Tony Fadell shows off his new project: Thermostats – October 25, 2011


  1. These situations are about people. It’s odd, perhaps lazy, to consider any Apple employee, current or former, to be ‘Apple’ in some abstract way. Who is really being cultish about Apple? We the Apple fanatics, or the bizarro tech press?

    To my mind, Apple is about taking interdisciplinary skills and collaboration toward focused, positive goals of creativity.

    I’m sorry John Rubinstein and Ron Johnson struck out, but they ARE not ‘Apple’, obviously.

    1. Yes without the actual Apple corporate structure surrounding these ex-employees you can’t expect Apple magic to occur. Apple enables the people it has by the nature of the company within it’s protected confines. It does not travel with the employee who leaves the company. It stays behind. Sorry Google, Palm, etc..

  2. Pretty sharp tongue there, MacDailyNews!

    While I never liked Papermaster, I think Tony Fadell might be the exception to this rule.

    I think JC Penny is just a very old company whose customer”s expect it to be a certain way. Johnson’s changes where just too much for the customers to accept. Department stores are in a tough position.

    1. MDN’s take is ridiculous. Both Rubinstein and Johnson joined sinking ships. Palm’s Pre was better than Blackberry or Android, but it was late to the game and everyone knew Palm was half-dead already, so the carriers wouldn’t commit to the Pre. If Palm had been more financially stable (and thus been able to increase the hardware quality just a little), it likely would be the iPhone rival, not Android.

      Johnson tried to radically change JCPenny to make it a destination shopping center for people rather than a coupon shopper’s money-saver trip. He failed because JCP has already reduced itself to the price tag wars and its board would not have any patience to a rebuild. It may not have worked, but I’ll bet JCP files for bankruptcy within the next 12 months anyway.

  3. Most people have one brilliant idea (or principle) and many have more than one. The downfall, IMO, is thinking that the one successful idea is universal. In my work, I have watched brilliant friends come up with a great idea. It worked at that time for that situation and context. It was not reproducible!

    Wisdom is knowing the difference between a one time vs repeatable successes.

    Apple’s repeat successes is basically the combination of 1. their philosophy of keeping it simple by saying “no” to the extraneous; 2. by making quality products; 3. research on human nature and human interface systems for the product.

    This fits with the Apple Store, iPod, iPhone, iMac, iPad. IF a product does not combine all of those basic tenements, they are more than likely doomed – such as the Palm, JC Penney’s , etc. The exception to this is in the low end low pricing context.

  4. I wonder if MDN will say that as and when Ives leaves (and yes I know there are dimwits on here who will celebrate). After all eventually he must fancy the idea of producing a World renowned design practice free to design whatever he wants due to his reputation and with top notch clients queuing at his door. Point is not everyone just wants to stay in the same place for ever so to simply say if he/she was of value they would still be there is a moronic statement in the extreme.

    1. Hmmm, from what I’ve read in interviews with Ive, he seems to pretty much have the freedom TO design anything he wants, plus iterations of it, completely free from any considerations of any commercial success, until it satisfies Ive’s own obsessive attention to detail. He was on the point of leaving Apple, until Jobs returned and spotted what he was doing, and gave him the freedom to create that he’d been denied.
      That freedom to play with new designs, new technologies, new materials, without interference from busybody managers is quite probably unique, and I very much doubt Ive would gain any benefit from operating outside Apple; his budget would be severely limited compared to the billions of dollars he currently has access to.
      Plus, apart from his Bentley Continental GT, he doesn’t appear to have a particularly extravagant lifestyle, so he doesn’t need more money.
      A win-win situation, surely?

      1. Pretty astute analysis. And if you’re right, he’d be perturbed by the criticism of iOS 7 and, not going anywhere else, pick better collaborators for a serious revamp in iOS 8.

  5. Johnston has a huge task at JCP. He had to change the way the customers shopped and they never gave him enough time. With Apple, they only had distributor stores to compare and so had a clean slate to work with.
    Palm OS had promise but it was too late for Rubenstein to make a difference. Palm was dead anyway.

    1. It’s highly unlikely that Nest ever expected to sell in the kind of numbers a major smartphone platform does. If they sell a couple of hundred thou a year, that would be doing very well for such an expensive thermostat. $250 times 200 thou, is a good number.

    1. I agree. But also, Rubie retired. Until he was recruited by Palm, there was no evidence that he was going back to work. Johnson had stated a number of times that he REALLY wanted to be a CEO, and he got his chance.

      The same thing is true of others. For MDN to make the kind of statements they often do is just fanboyism.

  6. Something not really mentioned here, though possibly in the original article, is that the major disappointments were from those appointed as CEOs of companies that were already floundering. It’s very possible that no one could have done a better job, and indeed, they were replacing a CEO who had been let go because of the miserable job he had done.

    But running a department within a much larger company, where their job is much more focused, and not dependent in making overall corporate policy? Well, they did very well at Apple doing that, and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t work out again at Google.

    They mention Papermaster, but that was an entirely different situation. He was Apple’s second choice, and he just didn’t fit Apple’s needs. He did do very well at IBM before, and he’s doing well now.

    1. Astute analysis. I do think some managers aspire to ever greater heights of authority to test their mettle. There is a particular case of this, the Resurrection Syndrome, that is irresistible to the conquering instinct and which has brought many otherwise talented managers to ruin. But it takes more — I would say visionary perception — to pick the right battle. And to win it.

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