Apple CEO triggered by reports of design decline

When Apple’s famous head of design decided to call it a day last week, there was widespread speculation around what may have caused such a move.

The most Juicy gossip came from the Wall Street Journal, which wrote a piece contending that Jony Ive started the process of clearing off long ago and that it was motivated, at least in part, by CEO Tim Cook’s relative disinterest in the design process. This in turn demoralised Ive who, according to the account, became an increasingly distant figure at Apple Towers.

Tim Cook has always been known as an operations specialist with a particular talent for managing an efficient supply chain. Since he took over from the more creative, mercurial Apple founder Steve Jobs in 2011, these talents have ensured the company has gone from strength to strength in terms of revenue and profitability, but there has always been speculation that this has come at the expense of innovation.

That last truly disruptive move from Apple came with the launch of the iPad in 2010, but it looks like Ive was hoping the Apple Watch launch in 2015 would be a similar inflection point. While Apple has flogged quite a few of them and doubtless trousered a pile of cash in the process, there’s very little that differentiates the Apple Watch from its competitors and the category itself has failed to set the technology world on fire.

So it’s easy to see why a narrative that contends innovation at Apple is being suffocated with him in charge might trouble Cook somewhat, which seems to be confirmed by his response to the WSJ piece. Uncharacteristically he publicly took issue with the story via a statement sent to NBC News, in which he asserted it was at odds with his own perception.

“The story is absurd,” wrote Cook. “A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don’t match with reality. At a base level, it shows a lack of understanding about how the design team works and how Apple works. It distorts relationships, decisions and events to the point that we just don’t recognize the company it claims to describe.”

Grizzled Journalists soon recognised this as the kind of non-specific denial companies often send out when they want to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a story without calling out any specific inaccuracies. Cook is essentially saying he disagrees with the conclusions but then he would, wouldn’t he?

Ive’s departure doesn’t seem to have done Apple’s share price any harm, but it does increase the pressure on the company to prove it can still be a consumer technology trailblazer without him. While Apple hasn’t shown much evidence of this for a while, that lack of differentiation was largely put down to the maturity of the smartphone form factor and the openness of the component supply chain. If Apple still hasn’t invented anything revolutionary in a few years’ time, people now might pin the blame on Cook.

KPN CEO resignation definitely had nothing to do with recent network crash

Maximo Ibarra resigned at CEO of Dutch telco KP the day after a major network failure, but the company insists the two events are unrelated.

Ibarra had led KPN for just a year and a half, having moved over from Italy where he was a Wind lifer and CEO for five years. If we take the KPN announcement at face value Ibarra and his family never took to Rotterdam and have decided to move back to Italy. Luckily for them Sky Italia had a vacancy and has appointed Ibarra as its new CEO once he’s served out his notice.

“I have been with KPN since 2017, and appointed CEO in 2018,” said Ibarra. “I regret the timing, but family reasons gave me no choice. I will dedicate myself the coming months to secure a seamless transfer to my successor.”

The timing referred to must surely be the major outage suffered by KPN on Monday of this week, which even shut down the 112 emergency number. It seemed to just affect voice calls, which were down across the country for three hours.

“We regret that this could have happened, and we offer our sincere apologies to our customers and also to the Dutch society,” said Joost Farwerck, COO of KPN. “We immediately established a crisis team and yesterday afternoon and evening every possible effort was made to find a solution. Thankfully, as a result, by early evening service was resumed and 112 was also accessible again.

“It goes without saying, KPN will evaluate this disruption thoroughly, because this should never have happened. In this evaluation, we will work together with the Ministry of Security and Justice, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Telecom Agency and other relevant bodies. Of course, we want to learn from this disruption, so that we can draw the correct conclusions and ensure that this kind of incident can be prevented in the future.”

In the Ibarra press release KPN felt compelled to include the following statement: “His resignation is unrelated to the network outage experienced yesterday.” It probably was just unfortunate timing and we certainly have no evidence to suggest otherwise. But you can see how some people might put two and two together to make five.

Sharon White calls it a day at Ofcom

After four years of running the UK telecoms regulator Sharon White has decided she fancies a go at retail.

Ofcom has announced White will leave her current post as CEO of the regulator towards the end of this year in order to become Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership – a UK retail chain. They don’t have a replacement lined up but have half a year to dig someone up.

“Sharon has been an outstanding Chief Executive for Ofcom and will be missed by the whole organisation,” said Ofcom Chairman Lord Burns. “Under Sharon’s leadership, Ofcom has helped to deliver ultrafast broadband, widespread 4G mobile and now 5G, and became the first independent regulator of the BBC. She leaves Ofcom as a regulator with a relentless focus on the consumer interest; making sure people and businesses can get the best out of their communications services.”

“It’s been a huge privilege to lead Ofcom at a time when reliable, affordable communications have become essential,” said White. “I will leave behind an organisation that is dedicated in its mission to make communications work for everyone.”

On the whole White seems to have done a decent job in her time at Ofcom. She had to deal with things like the Openreach controversy, the 5G spectrum auctions and Three’s constant moaning and has done so with dignity and without any major mistakes. While she has left a solid platform for her successor, that person will have to deal with an industry in the middle of enormous change and in the centre of some of the biggest contemporary geopolitical issues.

Ericsson promotes from within for new marketing head

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson opted to draw on in-house talent to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Helena Norrman.

Ericsson’s new Head of Marketing & Corporate Relations is Stella Medlicott. She has spent the past couple of years performing the same function for the Europe and Latin America  market area and prior to that spent seven years running the marketing for Red Bee Media, the media services business Ericsson acquired in 2013, but tried and failed to sell a few years later.

“With the introduction of 5G we are at an exciting time in the industry,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “Our ability to differentiate our offering, articulate the value we bring to our customers and build strong relationships with our stakeholders will be key to build a strong company position for this next phase of industry development. Stella has the right background, experience and capabilities to lead this work going forward and I am very glad to see her stepping up to this role”.

“I really look forward to take on this exciting new role and to work together with both the global marketing and communications team and the executive team,” said Medlicott. “This is the time where the mobile industry is being transformed through 5G, generating innovation and new business opportunities across industries. Our marketing and communications abilities are key to leveraging our technology leadership in 5G.”

As both comments stress, Medlicott has stepped up to the top marketing job at an opportune time. Not only are we at the start of a new technological cycle in the telecoms world, but Ericsson’s own fortunes seem to be on the up. After the nadir of end of the Vestberg era, Ekholm has steadied the ship and, you never know, might even decide it’s safe to empower Medlicott with a bit more marketing budget.

US official overseeing country’s frequency strategy has resigned

David Redl, heading National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), responsible for the US’ strategy on frequency and 5G, abruptly resigned from his post.

The circumstances of his resignation were not disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal reported that Redl has had conflicts with other political appointees at the current administration, including officials at the FCC. Redl, together with the Commerce Secretary, was tasked by President Trump to develop the country’s “National Spectrum Strategy” last October.

A few days before his resignation, Redl used his speech at Satellite Industry Association’s annual dinner to voice his concerns. “We don’t have to choose between making more spectrum available for the private sector and sustaining our critical government systems. We also don’t have to choose between terrestrial 5G and satellite services,” Redl said on that occasion. “To start with, satellite will play an important role in 5G connectivity, but perhaps more to the point these uses are not mutually exclusive; it’s just going to take hard work for them to continue to coexist in a more contentious spectrum environment.”

Meanwhile, FCC would not wait to have the “comprehensive, balanced and forward-looking” spectrum strategy in place before it pressed ahead with the auction of the mmWave frequencies, including the 24GHz and 37GHz bands that are also being coveted by the satellite industry. “I can’t recall ever in the past watching two different arms of an administration get into this kind of public disagreements,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel commented.

In other cases, Redl’s opinions often carried a lot of weight in FCC’s decision making. Before the decision was taken to deny China Mobile the operation licence, Redl’s earlier note had already set the tone. Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, in his statement called Redl “a longtime colleague, who served with distinction during his 18 months at NTIA.  He was a vocal advocate within the Department of Commerce for repurposing federal spectrum for commercial use and fostering the private sector’s lead in 5G deployment.  I thank David for his service and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

It may or may not be related, but Redl’s resignation also coincided with fresh pressure from the US on the UK to join the alliance to ban Huawei from the country’s 5G networks. The DC-based news outlet The Hill reported that Diane Rinaldo, Redl’s former deputy, would be taking over as acting administrator.

Apple starts to count the casualties of its poor 5G campaign

It looks like one of Apple’s most senior wireless engineers has cleared off, just days after the company lost its fight with Qualcomm.

The Information has reported that Rubén Caballero, a VP of Engineering in charge of wireless stuff at Apple, has left the building. One of its mystery sources said Caballero was ‘leading Apple’s charge into 5G’, which is especially appropriate considering his surname. Since that charge was resoundingly defeated by Qualcomm’s big guns Apple seems to have decided to discreetly disband its 5G light brigade.

As is its way Apple hasn’t offered any comment on the scoop but The Information says his work emails are bouncing back and his work phone has been disconnected so the circumstantial evidence is strong in this one. Additionally Apple Insider did a bit of sniffing around of its own and got another anonymous source to confirm Caballero’s departure.

Both stories feature a fair bit of speculation about why Caballero may have galloped off after 14 years at Apple, but to us the most likely reason for any wireless casualties at Apple must be the utter farce of its attempted collaboration with Intel. Since Intel was clearly hopelessly inadequate as a 5G modem partner, Apple CEO Tim Cook must have a pretty low opinion of any of his execs that told him otherwise.

Openet exec gets red-pilled, joins Matrixx

Marc Price, CTO for the Americas at BSS vendor Openet, has decided to find out how deep the rabbit-hole goes by defecting to competitor Matrixx Software.

He will get to travel a bit more in his new role at Global CTO for Matrixx and he had been at Openet for 15 years, so it was probably time for a change. The move will also allow  Matrixx Founder Dave Labuda to step away from the techie side of things and focus his attention entirely on some serious chief execing.

“Marc is a tremendous addition to Matrixx’s executive leadership team,” said Labuda. “His experience will be invaluable as we continue to scale the company. Marc’s vision and vast experience in the telecommunications market is renowned. He has played a leading role across three key eras in the telco market: the rise of competitive carriers; the establishment of the real time charging model; and the current process of digital transformation and subsequent move to hybrid clouds and IoT.”

“Matrixx is poised to lead the digital commerce revolution being ushered in with the advancement of cloud technology and the advent of 5G,” said Price. “I’m excited to join the team at such an important time to help accelerate Matrixx’s global growth. I am looking forward to working with the Matrixx team to help scale the company, driving Matrixx’s innovation to further accelerate our customers’ digital transformations.”

Openet and Matrixx aren’t just competing BSS vendors, they’re both trying to disrupt the market by presenting a more flexible, cloud-based approach to customer engagement for operators. They’re both fond of buzzwords such as ‘digital transformation’ and like to paint larger BSS competitors as slow and anachronistic. So culturally this should be a straightforward move for Price and, at least until they find his replacement, may mean a fair bit more work for Openet Founder and CTO Joe Hogan.

Ericsson loses another senior exec

Ericsson lifer Rafiah Ibrahim, currently its Head of Market Area Middle East & Africa, is calling it a day after 23 years at the company.

To be precise Ibrahim is going to step down from her current position, which she has held for a couple of years, at the end of August and assume the new role of ‘Advisor to the CEO’. But since all precedent under the current CEO Börje Ekholm is that ‘Advisor’ is just a euphemism for ‘gardening leave’, we’d be surprised if Ibrahim was still with the company in 2020.

“Rafiah has been a very important leader in our sales and delivery organization,” said Ekholm. “In her latest assignment she successfully led the merger of two important markets, Middle East & Africa, increasing customer value and securing scale and efficiency as well as implementing a robust operational structure. In addition, Rafiah has built strong customer relationships across the region not least visible in the recently announced 5G contracts. Rafiah has been a valued member of the Executive Team and I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role.”

The workload of Ericsson’s executive recruitment team is starting to mount up. We still don’t know who is going to replace Helena Norrman to head up the marketing and there seems to have been a steady trickle of senior departures since Ekholm took over. No doubt this is all part of the grand plan, which seems to be going OK, but it does make you wonder about morale at the top table and we must assume Ibrahim was still happy with everything when this corporate vid was published towards the end of last year.

 

AT&T mucks about with WarnerMedia some more

AT&T has finally got the US government off its back, but now the challenge of making a success of its mega-acquisition really begins.

Last week an appeal from the US Department of Justice to reverse the acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T, which completed in the middle of last year, was rejected and the DoJ decided not to appeal, so that seems to be the last of the US governmental opposition to it. Now we get to the small matter of absorbing a massive media company into an even bigger telecoms one and making a success of it.

Respecter of tradition as AT&T clearly is, the first step is a good old reorg. There’s nothing like hiring some fellow members of the CEOs golf club and drafting up a shiny new organogram to make you feel like you’re really getting somewhere and in that respect AT&T seems to have scored a hole in one.

The flagship appointment could also be viewed as a replacement since Richard Plepler, long time boss of arguably the most valuable component of the acquisition – HBO – decided to call it a day last week. It has been widely reported that this was the result of the kind of culture clash and competing visions that are typical of M&A, but it still feels like a major negative to lose someone with such rare experience of making and monetising premium content.

In retrospect the writing had been on the wall for a while. Last summer the AT&T lifer put in charge of WarnerMedia, indicated that he wanted to refocus on quantity of content, which usually means a reduced emphasis on quality. That’s not what HBO is about and all the talk in the world about big data and advertising won’t change that. HBO is a premium subscription model and AT&T would be unwise to think it knows better.

The person charged with reinventing the wheel is Robert Greenblatt, who was previously Chairman of NBC Entertainment. He will head up the entertainment and direct-to-consumer silos. Meanwhile Jeff Zucker is in charge of news and sports, which includes CNN, Kevin Tsujihara is in charge of kids content and Gerhard Zeiler is Chief Revenue Officer for WarnerMedia.

“We have done an amazing job establishing our brands as leaders in the hearts and minds of consumers,” said Stankey. “Adding Bob Greenblatt to the WarnerMedia family and expanding the leadership scope and responsibilities of Jeff, Kevin and Gerhard – who collectively have more than 80 years of global media experience and success – gives us the right management team to strategically position our leading portfolio of brands, world-class talent and rich library of intellectual property for future growth.”

“I’m honoured to be joining WarnerMedia during such an exciting time for the company and the industry as a whole, and I look forward to working alongside the many talented executives and team members across the company,” said Greenblatt, as convention demands. “WarnerMedia is home to some of the world’s most innovative, creative and successful brands and we’re in a unique position to foster even deeper connections with consumers. And it goes without saying I will always have a soft spot in my heart for HBO going back to the rewarding experience I had producing Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under.”

See? He’s all over this HBO shizzle. Thanks for everything Plepler, but I got this. To be fair Greenblatt he does seem to have pretty solid experience and is presumably a safe pair of hands, but if Stankey tells him to sacrifice quality for margin and the mass market he will presumably oblige. Telecoms is a very quantitative game and there is a real danger that AT&T will be culturally incapable of appreciating things that are harder to measure and for which the ROI is less immediate and demonstrable. If that turns out to be the case at least the former Time Warner people will be able to draw on their rich experience of failed M&A to help them.

BT manages to give Kirkby a job after all

Allison Kirkby, the new CEO of Danish telco TDC, has found the time to become a non-executive director of BT too.

Kirkby was thought to be one of the front-runners for the BT CEO job, following Gavin Patterson’s decision to spend more time with his yachts. But she took herself out of the running when her employer at the time of the executive search, Tele2, merged with Com Hem, and Kirkby took that opportunity to start a new gig at TDC.

In the end BT went for former Worldpay boss Philip Jansen, who has plenty of experience at the top table, but not necessarily of an operator group. With that in mind it makes sense to get in some extra expertise in that area and it’s presumably safe to assume that TDC and BT have no competitive overlap.

“Allison brings to the BT Board valuable and recent experience in the international telecommunications sector,” said BT Chairman Jan du Plessis. “This, combined with her strong experience in driving performance, improving customer service and delivering shareholder value, makes her an excellent addition to the Board. We are delighted to welcome Allison to BT.”

“I’m extremely proud to be joining the BT Board,” said Kirkby. “This is an exciting time for the sector and BT is at the forefront of driving change in the industry for the benefit of its customers both domestically and internationally.” She joins an all-star cast on the BT board, which includes DT boss Timotheus Höttges, long-time ARM senior exec Mike Inglis and former Telefónica Europe boss Matthew Key.