Apple Had Concerns About Hiring IBM's Papermaster, E-Mails Show

Search committee members believed the engineer might not adapt to Apple's quick product cycles and consumer orientation.

Paul McDougall

November 12, 2008

3 Min Read
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Apple's months-long search to replace departing iPhone chief Tony Fadell ultimately led the company to a candidate who is "immensely smart about microprocessor design" but who might have difficulty adapting to Cupertino's notoriously quick product cycles, consumer focus, and informal culture, internal Apple e-mails and court documents reveal.

Apple hired the candidate, IBM chip expert Mark Papermaster, earlier this month -- despite the fact that Papermaster is the subject of a breach-of-contract lawsuit by IBM.

In replacing Fadell, who is stepping down from his position for family reasons, Apple wanted "someone who had a strong background in technology and engineering in general, who also had strong managerial skills and would fit within Apple's culture," said Apple human resources VP Danielle Lambert in a court filing related to the lawsuit.

By all accounts, Apple believed Papermaster possessed the technical and managerial chops to fulfill the role, but was worried that, coming from the buttoned-down world of IBM, he might not fit in at Apple -- a company that's run by a rock-star CEO who's clad most of the time in jeans and a turtleneck.

"You mentioned Mark being spot on in systems and semiconductor understanding, but may be off in other ways," Lambert wrote in an e-mail to Bob Mansfield, a search committee member who is Apple's senior VP for Mac hardware engineering and who also was a colleague of Papermaster's at IBM.

In his reply, Mansfield conceded that he was "worried" about how Papermaster would handle "the differences in the pace of development" between Apple and IBM. But he added that he wasn't "overly worried," according to court records.

Apple famously rolls out new iterations of hot-selling consumer products like the Mac, iPhone, and iPod several times a year, while IBM, which focuses on business systems, upgrades products at a more measured pace. Big Blue, headquartered in leafy, suburban New York, also favors suits and ties over sport coats and jeans when it comes to employee attire.

Mansfield's e-mails also reveal broader concerns he held about the search for Fadell's successor. In one message to Lambert, he said he thought that Apple's quest for a technical genius might be at odds with the goal of filling a position that carries some consumer marketing responsibilities.

"I guess my biggest issue is that these are people who fit the description you gave me but, frankly, I have a hard time matching that description with what you told me the person would do," wrote Mansfield. Apple named Papermaster senior VP for devices hardware engineering earlier this month.

Lambert's court filing reveals that, prior to hiring Papermaster, Apple spent five months trying to find an executive with a background in consumer electronics. "We were not successful," wrote Lambert. The failure raises questions about whether Apple's sales of iPods and iPhones, which brought in about $11 billion, or roughly 33% of fiscal 2008 net sales, will suffer in light of Fadell's departure.

In its lawsuit, IBM is rejecting Papermaster's claim that his move to Apple doesn't violate a noncompete agreement he signed because Apple and IBM are not competitors.

IBM notes that it manufactures microchips that could be used in Apple devices such as the iPhone and the iPod, and that it used to supply Apple with PowerPC processors for use in Macs. "The trade secrets and confidential know-how that Mr. Papermaster has in his possession can be used for extensive and far-reaching applications in the field of consumer electronics," IBM senior executive Rod Adkins states in a court document.

IBM sued Papermaster, who was one of the company's top chip experts, last month. IBM is asking U.S. District Court in New York to block for at least one year the engineer's move to Apple. Papermaster's new position violates "his contractual obligation to refrain from working for an IBM competitor for one year" after leaving the company, IBM states in its complaint against Papermaster.

A federal court judge ruled Friday that, for the time being at least, Papermaster must not work at Apple. The case is ongoing.

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

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