First it was Scott Forstall, who ran software development for the iPad and iPhone at Apple. Now Steve Sinofsky, head of Microsoft’s Windows division and the person responsible for turning the disaster that was Vista into Windows 7 and now Windows 8. Both considered brilliant. Both delivered high-profile products that are critical to their employers’ success. Both fired.
Why fired? Many versions of the truth (and even more theories) flying around, but there are two interesting similarities. First, both men, by all accounts, are total shits – they don’t play nicely with others, and not many people want to work with or for them. Second, both companies did the kumbaya thing in their respective press releases, talking about how the changes will lead to greater “collaboration” (in Forstall’s case) and “integration” (in Sinofsky’s case) across divisions.
Putting aside the differences in Apple’s and Microsoft’s respective businesses, there is the generic question: what price genius? I fundamentally believe no one is irreplaceable, but is creating harmony always in a company’s best interest? Can the natural tension that arises from combining a bunch of Type A’s and alpha males/females lead to better results? Or is it best to get rid of that one bad apple (no pun intended), no matter how shiny, to make sure the rest of the tree survives and flourishes? No easy answers here – so much depends on things like a company’s business, its culture, its operating environment, its competitive position, etc. But there will be lessons to be learned – we’ll have to wait and see what happens to both companies without the man thought most likely to carry on the legacy of Steve Jobs and the guy who was going to return the luster to a tarnished Microsoft.