Apple reached a significant executive leadership milestone last week with the announcement that Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive, will be leaving the company to start his own design company, which will be named LoveForm.

The Ive announcement provided the opportunity for the company’s Chief Operations Officer, Jeff Williams, who heads global supply chain operations, to now assume added leadership of software and hardware design. Apple's New Product Leadership

Jony Ive has long been associated with being the product design genius of the company.  During the 1990’s, the association of both Steve Jobs and Jony Ive was attributed to the reincarnation of Apple, in attractive product design and the subsequent manifestation of multiple models of the iPhone models.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, noted in a statement:

Jony is a singular figure in the design world and his role in Apple’s revival cannot be overstated, from 1998’s groundbreaking iMac to the iPhone and the unprecedented ambition of Apple Park, where recently he has been putting so much of his energy and care. Apple will continue to benefit from Jony’s talents by working directly with him on exclusive projects, and through the ongoing work of the brilliant and passionate design team he has built. After so many years working closely together, I’m happy that our relationship continues to evolve, and I look forward to working with Jony long into the future.

Mr. Ive’s departure from Apple is widely being viewed as representing the transition of Apple from a consumer electronics hardware centric company to that of a content services company leveraged by the vast amount of mobile consumer devices that exist globally.


Revised Leadership

The former role of Chief Design Officer will now revert to two talented executives.

Evans Hankey, a protégé of Ives, will assume the role of Vice President of Product Design. Hankey will be the first woman to take charge of the Industrial Design team that have been the cornerstone of Apple’s product designs. Alan Dye, a graphic design engineer who joined Apple in 2006, will assume the role of Vice President of Human Interface Design. Both Hankey and Dye will report to COO, Williams.

In reporting on these executive moves, The Wall Street Journal indicated that Williams, COO since 2015, has been long viewed as the possible future of the company.

The recent announcement that he will take over management of software and hardware when chief design officer Jony Ive leaves this year- the company’s biggest executive change in years, fueled anticipation that Mr. Williams is the heir apparent to Tim Cook.

Supply Chain Matters readers are more than likely aware that Tim Cook’s qualifications for CEO included former leadership of global supply chain and worldwide operations. His announcement was ripe with speculation as to whether an operations executive could step into the shadows of a Steve Jobs led company. In the past two years, there has been criticism related to product introduction snafus and delays, along with announcement of new products before new designs and production processes could be solidified. We observed such in a January 2018 blog commentary.

Mr. Williams will likely face that same speculation, and that is why, from our Supply Chain Matters lens, this latest executive realignment resounds.

Mr. Williams ability to provide synergy among product design and supply chain operations, incorporating a design or supply chain focus can contribute to different levels of timely product innovation for consumer electronics. Rather than solely breaking new ground in product design, the opportunity is to take advantage of market opportunities in a far more-timely manner than a traditional annual product release cycle targeted for the holiday fulfillment quarter. Supply chain operations and product management reporting to the same C-Suite executive adds more accountability that both organizations are aligned.

A Design for Supply Chain perspective provides added opportunities to leverage existing or standard components and manufacturing processes as basis of market timely product innovation, and subsequently faster time-to-market cycles.

With pressure growing for Apple to have more product successes, Williams may well have the opportunity to indeed pave the way for leadership and success of the company.  If so, it will serve as another testimonial that supply chain leadership can indeed lead to the CEO role.


Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2019, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.