Apple’s leadership structure could cause headaches in the future


Tim Cook delivers the goods at Apple's iPhone 11 event.
Tim Cook has continued a leadership structure established by Steve Jobs.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s always been a relatively flat company in terms of corporate structure. But that may be posing a challenge, as a new report on the company’s leadership suggests.

As a result of Apple’s employee growth and changes in the leadership team, many executives now have large numbers of people reporting directly to them. According to a former Apple exec, that structure may not be “particularly effective.”

The Information‘s report (paywall) comes after the departure of Angela Ahrendts and Jony Ive. Both of these executives were key to Apple’s leadership structure. At various times, Apple-watchers singled both out as potential future CEOs. Now that they’ve gone others have had to step up to the plate.

For instance, human resources boss Dierdre O’Brien has now added retail to her list of responsibilities. As a result, she has 23 people who directly report to her. That’s more than any other executive at her level in the company. COO Jeff Williams now has 10 people reporting to him. Two of these are design team members who once reported to Ive.

Leadership structure challenges

Compared to other tech giants such as Microsoft, Apple has fewer senior managers. This theoretically means fewer levels of bureaucracy. But it also brings other challenges. Out of a U.S. workforce of nearly 84,000 people, just 115 executives report to Tim Cook or his direct subordinates. Microsoft, by comparison, has 546 executives to cover 74,000 employees.

An unnamed former Apple executive says that Steve Jobs is responsible for the structure. He believed it made Apple more agile and able to make decision because these relied on only a few senior execs. But the ex-employee thinks it could be a challenge in the future.

“[I]t looks like the senior vice presidents have way too many reports … it doesn’t look particularly effective,” the former Apple executive said.