Jeff Williams Steps Forward, but the Jury Is Still Out

Jeff Williams Steps Forward, but the Jury Is Still Out

The news of Jony Ive leaving Apple came as no surprise, as he has been less involved in products over the past four years. Given Ive’s iconic contribution to Apple’s success, the takeaway from yesterday’s announcement has been largely overlooked. Jeff Williams has taken a step closer to succeeding Tim Cook. While Williams is the logical heir to the CEO role, the jury is still out on whether or not that comes to fruition.

Moving Williams Up

Apple is using Ive’s departure as an opportunity to elevate Jeff Williams’ role instead of prioritizing clear design leadership. We believe this is an early step toward Tim Cook laying the groundwork for his succession plan, which is five to ten years away. Having the design team report to Williams fulfills a prerequisite for eventually assuming the CEO role.

A Sub-Optimal Structure

However, the just-announced design team structure is sub-optimal. With no clear direct successor to Ive, leadership is split between Industrial and Human Interface Design, led by Evans Hankey and Alan Dye, respectively. Additionally, those two leaders will report to Jeff Williams, an operations person, begging the question of how the design-heavy culture will mesh with Williams’ strong operations focus. Eventually, under Williams’ leadership, we expect an individual to emerge as the leader of the design team and report directly to Tim Cook.

Is Jeff Williams the Right Fit?

The simple answer is maybe – the jury is still out. On one hand, the company is making a clear move to expand his responsibilities and broaden his skill set. Even more so than when Tim Cook took over, operations are key to Apple’s success – they are selling more devices of more types in more places than ever before. On the other hand, Williams is untested leading multiple disciplines. He is also only two years younger than Cook (56), leaving us to question whether he would want to start a long-term tenure as CEO in his mid-60s.

This move is consistent with Cook’s steady-handed approach to leadership. On the flip side of his steady hand, Cook is more risk-averse and potentially missed an opportunity to elevate fresh leadership on the design team.

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