John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Behind Silicon Valley’s Un-Retirement: Why Bob Mansfield Is Back at Apple

Bob Mansfield, Apple’s former senior vice president of Hardware Engineering, is now back at the company after what may be one of Silicon Valley’s briefest retirements.

The longtime company exec returned fully to Apple this week following a rare executive shake-up that saw the departure of Scott Forstall, one of the most visible faces of Apple since Steve Jobs’s death last year, and head of its mobile iOS business. In the wake of that jarring departure: Mansfield in a brand-new position as senior vice president of Technologies.

So, what happened? According to a central theory advanced by people who know Apple well: Forstall’s ouster.

As you may recall, Mansfield retired from Apple in June, only to abruptly return to the company in August. This was great news for Apple, as Mansfield, a 13-year company veteran, oversaw the engineering of every major piece of hardware Apple has rolled out in the past decade, and is very highly regarded within the company.

But it was out of character for the tech giant — which meticulously plans executive transitions like these — to announce a retirement, only to withdraw it eight weeks later.

Sources said that Mansfield was actually very serious about retiring, which makes his quick return to Apple all the more curious.

But I’m told he changed his mind after Cook made him “an offer he could not refuse,” including a massive cash and stock pay package. Even then, Mansfield only agreed to come back as an adviser.

At the time, Apple would say only that Mansfield had returned to oversee the development of unspecified “future products.” But it never said for how long, or exactly what he would be working on.

Some sources said he’d really just come back to help Apple CEO Tim Cook with the hardware engineering team’s transition to new leadership under Dan Riccio, which wasn’t going as well as expected.

Then, following Forstall’s ouster, Cook suddenly announced that Mansfield has agreed to stay with the company in his new position for another two years.

As one source close to the company told AllThingsD, “The timing of Bob’s return is not coincidental.”

To begin with, Mansfield was not a fan of Forstall’s confrontational management style, and sources said he generally tried to avoid the iOS exec. Indeed, Bloomberg reported last year that Mansfield would meet with Forstall only if Cook were present to mediate. I’ve heard many similar stories.

“It wasn’t a him-or-me situation,” one source said of Mansfield’s return and Forstall’s departure. “But, put it this way, I think Bob was much more willing to commit to two more years once he knew Scott was on his way out.”

What Mansfield will now do at the new Technologies unit is to be determined. In a note to Apple employees from Cook, the division will combine all of the company’s wireless teams in one organization, “including semiconductor teams, who have some very ambitious plans.”

Just how ambitious remains to be seen.

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