September 21, 2006

Apple’s under-sung heroes

My previous post mentioned Jonathan Ive, Apple Computer’s industrial design guru. “Jony,” as he’s called at Apple, is the creative force behind the look of the iMacs, iPods and the Titanium Powerbooks. He’s been doing his thing there since 1992.

Ron Johnson is another of Apple’s under-sung heros. He’s the person behind the incredible success of its growing web of retail stores. There are 147 of these now and 40 new locations planned. These spare looking stores outsell the cluttered big boxes of Best Buy ($2459 revenue/square foot vs. Best Buy’s $971). Johnson likes to staff the stores with Mac-users; a practice some wags thought would limit their growth. Not so; 5000 of them applied for the 300 openings Johnson had when he launched his 5th Avenue shop in Manhattan.

Some key contributors to Apple’s growth don’t even work for the company. Another person named Johnson – this one’s first name is Gary – is the source of the chips and software that makes the iPod do what it does. He works at PortalPlayer Inc.

When I researched growers to write about for Bigger Isn't Always Better, I found (to my surprise), many of the key players weren’t the CEOs of their organizations. Some of those who had the biggest impact on their business’ future toiled in the middle or margins of their company’s hierarchy. This contradicts the impression a reader of most business magazines gets – that all success is the result of the wisdom of the person on top (and most failure results from everyone eles’s inability to “execute”).

This conventional wisdom doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. I had a lot of fun in Bigger Isn't Always Better highlighting the MO’s of the real driver’s of organic growth. The practices of these under-sung heroes – Al Bru, Bill Greenwood, Jane Friedman, Debra Henretta, Darcy Winslow – offer more lessons about how to make growth happen than the more hyped stories of the Gerstners and Welches.

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