Apple Store chief admits he 'messed up.' Bloggers smell blood.August 17, 2012: 8:28 AM ET
Company acknowledges "mistake" as planned cutbacks are reversed
Daring Fireball's John Gruber likened it to the most vicious dressing down of a sales staff in American film history -- Alec Baldwin's tirade in Glengarry Glen Ross. The Loop's Jim Dalrymple called it "one of the worst decisions" Apple (AAPL) had made in a decade. "This has the stench," Dalrymple wrote, "of a man looking to make a name for himself."
When two bloggers who between them have cultivated better sources within Apple than anyone covering the company -- in print or online -- turn on a senior vice president who reports directly to CEO Tim Cook, you know the guy's in trouble.
The SVP in question is John Browett, the Wharton MBA who was brought in from Dixons -- a giant British electronics chain -- to fill the gaping hole created in Apple's executive team when Ron Johnson departed to run J.C. Penney (JCP).
Johnson was the man who, with Steve Jobs, created the Apple Stores -- those clean well-lighted places whose reputation for service and profitability are the envy of the retail world.
Browett's troubles began Monday when reports began to surface -- first in the U.K., then in the U.S. and Canada -- that Apple was laying off recently hired staffers at its stores around the world.
Then on Wednesday ifoAppleStore's Gary Allen, who covers Apple's retail operations like the Sporting News covers baseball, ran a long piece entitled Store Personnel Cuts Linked to Profit Goal that traced the rumors to their source.
Browett, Allen reported, felt the stores were "too bloated" with employees, and had launched a series of policy changes to make them run "leaner" -- despite "strongly-worded advice from Retail segment veterans that reducing personnel ahead of the annual Back-to-School promotion and the September introduction of the iPhone 5 could create a customer service catastrophe."
Enter Gruber, Dalrymple and the rest of the Apple bloggers. Within 24 hours of Allen's piece, Apple PR had reached out to the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Browett had reversed course and instructed his lieutenants to tell the retail staff "We messed up."
Apple official statement was blunt and more critical of a member of Apple leadership team than any I'd ever seen:
"Making these changes was a mistake and the changes are being reversed. Our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve."
I'm reminded of what Jonathan Margolis, who advises wealthy readers what technology to buy in the FT's How to Spend It magazine, tweeted when Browett was brought in to replace Ron Johnson:
"#Apple has hired bloke from Dixons to run retail. Tim Cook very excited about this as he's Mr Customer Service. Has he been to a Dixons?"