Earlier in 2012, British retail executive, John Browett hit the jackpot in becoming Vice President Retail for Apple in Cupertino.
He got there via Tesco, the supermarket chain and Dixon’s, the electrical goods store. He is generally credited with having brought productive direction to Dixon’s. He cut hundreds of jobs; he revised the design of the stores; he centralised warehousing; and he brought product repairs in-house.
At one level it had looked as if it was going well.
Tim Cook, the late Steve Jobs’ replacement, introduced him on arrival, saying: ‘Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else I’ve met’.
As should have been obvious, the vision of customer service developed by Apple – and indeed a major element in the success of the company – is a long way down a different road from places like Dixon’s.
Now, while he has made a lot of money in the Apple share options that came with his job, John Browett is out of Apple.
His departure has been abrupt. He is not moving to another job and Apple has not yet replaced him.
What went wrong? Going by the figures Browett’s impact seemed markedly positive. As Retail VP, he saw the quarter ending in June grow Apple retail stores’ performance by 17% year-on-year to $4.1bn.
Nine new shops were opened in this quarter, taking the total to 372 – but with an average of 367 open for business across the quarter, each one turnover at each averaged $11.1m, up from $10.8m on the same period in 2011. They got a total of 84 million customers compared to 74 million for the same quarter last year.
But out he’s gone.
It appears to be down to a mismatch in cultures. Browett’s profits-boosting formula included replacing full time staff who left with part timers; not renewing short term contracts; cut working hours for some staff; and left stores understaffed.
This is not the Apple way of retail – and, as an Apple based service, we can speak to the ease and benefit of Apple’s priority on first class sales staff.
Anyone who goes into – for example, the Apple Store in Buchanan Street in Glasgow, knows that you meet happy and expert staff, who feel respected, worthwhile, love the kit, enjoy what they do, take a real interest in customers, what they do and want to do with the kit – and never patronise the less knowledgeable.They don’t work on commission and they will give you good advice. The support is unmatched.
For Scotland, this is exemplary. Apple may be a high end computer design and development company but it’s sales philosophy values the worth of the able individual.
A comment on Browett’s departure from an Apple spokeswoman was: ‘Our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve.’
This is not a world view of innumerable identical units to be deployed and binned at will.
Browett had been seen as the star of British management, the first executive for ages to be head hunted to a major international company – and Apple has become the most valuable company in history.
There are lessons to be learned from this.